ICD Learning Day: Man is the ultimate flexible machine

05 december 2019 | Employees of the companies of Innovation Cluster Drachten discuss the results of their own R&D projects.

The Philips auditorium was buzzing like an indoor market on the annual ICD Learning Day. Employees from the companies in the Innovation Cluster Drachten reviewed and discussed the results of their R&D projects. They had been working on various technical challenges. At the annual ICD Learning Day, they showed their solutions, but only to each other, because some of these solutions are so innovative that they could arouse the curiosity of competitors.

“I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work,” said Thomas Edison. This statement suggests that you have to make many mistakes to innovate. Program Manager Joost Krebbekx disagrees. Innovation is organizing coincidence as well as possible, he told the around 100 participants in the ICD Learning Day during his introduction to the program. This was exactly what happened at Philips on Thursday 28 November. Technical experts from 21 high-tech companies in the Northern Netherlands grilled each other. They gave short pitches about their projects, and got feedback and questions during the ‘free flow’.

Paperless

“Hi Ben, great to see you. We last saw you four weeks ago. There have been a few changes in the assembly of the hydraulic arm. The construction of some parts needs to change. I will show how to do this.” Ben Scholtanus, Operations Manager at Neopost, showed what a paperless factory means. “This happens when I log in at the production line after my holiday. The system remembers what I did last and gives me the feedback I need to start working. In this way, I never miss a handover of tasks by a colleague and am not surprised when I see new components in the container.” Together with the R&D managers of Variass, Norma, Ventura Systems, and Photonis, Ben is working on an answer to the question how to get the correct product information to the right people at the right time. This entails more than on-screen work instructions. It calls for linking all available data on a product to each other, which results in a complete picture of the design process, the production process up to use of the finished product.

More than instructions

Ben gives an example. “With our folding and inserting machines, our customers collate documents, fold them, insert them in envelopes and provide these envelopes with address stickers and bar codes. Sensors in the machine check essential components in the machine for wear and faults. Because the machines are hooked up to the internet, we receive this information online.” According to Ben, the challenge is to get the correct information about wear and faults to the product designers so that they can take this information into account while designing a new version. “Then the designers have to place the adapted design in a new assembly plan, after which buyers need to know which new components they have to order. Finally, the changes in components and order of assembly steps must reach the operators at the assembly line. Of course, this must happen in the shortest possible time, to improve the product and keep costs as low as possible.” Ben is convinced that a paperless factory not only increases the quality of the product but also reduces the time to market. “The rate of product changes increases and the same applies to the rate of data changes. Employees rely on their experience and don’t look at the instructions. In a paperless factory, employees not only get instructions but also an explanation of what and how. This means that you will never be doing the same things for decades.’’

Flexible production

Not only processes become better and smarter in a smart factory, but machines also change. They are interconnected, linked to the internet and checked remotely to gain good insight into what really happens in the factory. Processes are optimized, cycle times are shortened and work is done more efficiently. Jan Jacob Mosselaar, system architect at FMI, works on a multidisciplinary architecture to enable flexible production. His challenge is giving flexible machines human characteristics. “For example, adapting quickly to sudden occurrences, self-learning capacities, and an ability to assess situations. In fact, humans are the ultimate flexible machine, so we have to take a good look at ourselves.’’

Building blocks

A robot arm with a gripper picks up products of different sizes and places them on another product. The actions of the arm may look arbitrary, but they are not. The robot arm operates very accurately and smoothly. There are no doubts about the size or the positioning of the product. Jacob explains: “Robots have to know what to pick and how and that is done by remotely feeding them with parameters that ensure that they become flexible.’’ However, there are limits to the flexibilization of robots. Moreover, not all variables will be available. For this reason, we are working on building blocks. “These building blocks are automated and you flexibilize them by using them alternately. The advantage is that you can also use building blocks from earlier machines. It is also possible to build independent units, each with their own standard, that are interchangeable and can be used in different machines.’’ Are the possibilities of flexibilization endless? “No, there is a limit somewhere. Flexibilization of machines is costly. It is often more practical to have several machines that each perform a specific task. You hardly ever need all functions at the same time.’’

Overview of ICD R&D projects

  • Smart Machines 2.0

Predictive maintenance and quality control in remote high-tech systems based on big data/clouds

  • Component & Parts inspection by Vision

New combinations of new vision cameras and light to inspect objects automatically

  • AI & Machine Learning

The way to retrieve information out of multiple databases

  • Connected Collaborative Robots 2.0

Robots and cobots for different manufacturing processes, connected to MES

  • Paperless factories

The first step to digital twinning on the production floor

  • Advanced Additive

New metal 3D printing applications, production-speed printing of engineering plastics, and 3D printing of electronics

  • Flexible machines

Defining a multi-disciplinary architecture to enable flexible manufacturing

  • Environment-Protected Electronics

Improving reliability of electronics under harsh conditions.

 

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