Following a construction period of two and a half years, it is ready to go: Prof. Johanna Wanka together with Saxony Premier Stanislaw Tillich, Fraunhofer President Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, as well as Dr. Hubert Waltl, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, pressed the red button to breathe life into the robots of the E³-Research Factory. The machines’ jobs: to assemble automobile doors in one of the research areas of the factory. The facility has been adapted from an actual production line in order to be able to conduct research and development in a near-real-life setting. Two additional research areas are involved with ultra-short technological process chains as well as with a comprehensive and integrated energy and resource management system. Starting today, research and industry will test out practical application of technologies for the Factory of the Future in the 17,000 sq ft facility. The name E³ derives from development of new kinds of machines, technologies and processes that help conserve energy and resources, emission-neutrality of the factory, and re-thinking how to integrate and involve humans in manufacturing of the future. All production levels, processes, and process chains are designed so that the researchers and their partners from industry can consider the whole factory embedded within its environment. 20 million EUR overall have been invested in the factory building by the EU, the German federal government and the State of Saxony, which stands on the grounds of the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Chemnitz. Partners from industry have also participated through provision of machinery.
Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, remarked: “We are transferring technologies and processes into practice faster in the E³-Factory, and we are increasing industry’s awareness about new approaches and solutions for sustainable manufacturing. We can test out how machines and processes need to be integrated in the future to achieve efficient manufacturing right here in an up-to-date production facility. A paradigm change is necessary to retain manufacturing in Germany in the future. Instead of extracting the maximum profit from the minimum application of capital, the new paradigm needs to be the creation of maximum value with minimum employment of resources.”
Prof. Johanna Wanka, German federal Minister of Education and Research (BMBF): “BMBF has supported the InnoCaT Innovation Alliance through 15 million EUR in funding. And now, following the expiry of the support, the research community is resolutely continuing the fine collaboration with its partners from industry and carrying on with the results achieved thus far and with the research priorities. I am pleased that our research support provided impetus having a lasting effect. The topic that the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and its partners are addressing is one of the major topics of the future. Resource-efficient production will increase in its importance and value. I am convinced of that.“
Premier Tillich stated at the opening celebration in Chemnitz on Thursday: “Energy policy starts with consumption. Energy is an important cost for companies. For the environment, every kilowatt-hour saved is a profit. The new E³-Factory demonstrates how just as much industrial value creation can be achieved as before with significantly less energy, material, and waste. That is a smart contribution to sustainable business practices and it will give an important competitive advantage to domestic industries.”
Prof. Matthias Putz, a member of the Board of Directors at Fraunhofer IWU and Coordinator of the main E³-Project within the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft said: “Fraunhofer IWU has been working closely with Technische Universität Chemnitz and regional businesses on solutions for energy-efficient and resource-conserving manufacturing processes for nearly 20 years. With the opening of the new E³-Research Factory, the participants are all jointly contributing to the historical tradition and identity of Chemnitz as a site for research. With the experimental and demonstrative character of the matrix of ideas comprising the Factory of the Future, we are showing how to conduct research, how to learn, and how to manufacture in the future."
Dr. Hubert Waltl, Senior Vice President of Production at AUDI AG and Chair of the Advisory Board for the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU: “The completely digital, networked factory in which the machines autonomously communicate with one another and repair themselves still remains a vision of the future today. With the E³-Research Factory, we want this vision to become reality in steps,” explains Dr. Waltl. “As a production shop model, it provides scientists the opportunity to work out and practically test designs for a resource-conserving and emission-neutral factory that are viable for the future. It thus is of important, strategic meaning for the entire Volkswagen Group, just as for the other partners in the project.”
Fraunhofer IWU had already launched the Saxony Cluster of Excellence named “Energy Efficient Product and Process Innovations in Production Engineering” (eniPROD) jointly with Technische Universität Chemnitz in 2009. From 2010 to 2012, 60 partners in the “Innovation Alliance Green Car Body Technologies” (InnoCaT) and coordinated by IWU researched the question of how energy input for auto body construction can be reduced by around 50%. The results will be taken up along side current research questions of production engineering in the Chemnitz Research Factory and investigated further.
The power train production line demonstrates aspects of efficient energy use and conservation of resources, for example. The researchers will implement very short process chains in this case. The scientists reduce the energy input, material consumption, and processing time by employing more efficient technologies and saving work steps. The approach will be demonstrated through manufacturing of components for drive shafts. Manufactured in this way, the shafts are lighter in comparison to the ones conventionally produced, require 30 percent less material, and the components possess improved properties.
The Factory will be optimized with respect to its energy consumption and at times be self-sufficient through use of photovoltaics, a combined heat and power plant, heat exchangers, intelligent control engineering, and operate with optimized total emissions. Energy and process data – like air pressure, water consumption, and electrical energy as well as machine and process data for example, will be captured at 160 locations to provide 1500 data points from the production facilities and the building itself, then displayed and correlated with one another in a control system. All of the information can be viewed on display monitors or mobile devices for further processing.
An exact copy of a complete process chain for construction of a car door shows how humans can be optimally incorporated in automated production procedures. The setup was developed in collaboration with Volkswagen AG. The researchers are analyzing here the prerequisites for employing industrial robots in the working area of humans, such as when an assembler does fine positioning with a machine like this that bears the load, for example. Research topics include basic and advanced training as well as intelligent software support tools to reduce machine downtime.
Fraunhofer President Prof. Neugebauer developed the E³-approach during his time as Director of Fraunhofer IWU. Fraunhofer's lighthouse project entitled E³-Production arose from this work. Twelve Institutes from the Fraunhofer’s Research Associations – Production, Materials and Components (MATERIALS), Light & Surfaces, IuK-Technology, and Life Sciences are contributing their expertise in Chemnitz.
The E³-Research Factory at Fraunhofer IWU in Chemnitz is the first of four demonstration projects that are additionally planned at the Fraunhofer Institutes for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Dortmund, and for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK in Berlin.
Further information and a Virtual Reality tour through the E³-Research Factory Resource-efficient Production http://www.e3-fabrik.de/