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Research work for the factory of the future LSWI

Research work for the factory of the future

The Industry 4.0 Research and Application Centre as a flexible research tool

Industry 4.0, Smart Factory and finally digitalisation as essential terms of the current time are naturally part of the generation of knowledge in modern research. The chosen procedure has to reflect the process of knowledge in a comprehensible way and ideally follows a corresponding research design. Its operationalisation requires suitable tools. Their selection not only determines the quality of the research work but also the effort required to generate the findings.

Investigations in the context of production management or the factory are a particular challenge. As socio-technical systems, the factory is characterised by complex links between technology, people and organisation. Furthermore, the generation of knowledge in the field is only possible under certain framework conditions which complicate an adequate experiment design or make it difficult to comply with the principles of scientific experimentation, or are associated with restrictions due to safety issues. The factory, in particular, is a "difficult experimental environment" in this respect, so that experiments on the original system are impossible or only possible at great expense.

Modelling fast and easy

The hybrid model factory of the Research and Application Centre Industry 4.0 provides a flexible experimental platform which, as an available tool, enables targeted and cost-reduced research in the context of the factory and production management. As a model factory it represents a hybrid simulation platform of cyberphysical systems and real automation technology, which provides all relevant production objects of different aggregation levels physically or virtually as configurable elements on the entire infrastructure. Through their fast and low-effort linking, concrete and individually different processes of individual and series production can be modelled and controlled plastically and realistically by taking up relevant features (e.g. interaction times), as well as repeated tests under the same environmental conditions (ceteris paribus requirement) and the control of disturbance factors. A complex modelling and implementation of the test setup is not necessary. The Weizenbaum Institute used the advantages in its research work on digital assistance systems.

Research object Digital Assistance Systems

Digital assistance systems have a high potential to design proactive, intelligent user guidance directly at the scene of the incident. As an implication for research, the actual implementation in industrial practice results in the task of identifying the concrete obstacles by applying scientific methods and developing appropriate solutions to overcome them. 

In order to investigate the role of additional information and support for the work performance and satisfaction of employees, the Weizenbaum Institute used an experimental design using the hybrid simulation environment of the Research and Application Centre. By simulating real factory situations, the test persons are trained step by step in their task activities via an assistance system. However, some of the test persons are given additional process knowledge in a short training course at the beginning. The subject of the research was the degree of loss of process knowledge when using digital assistance systems, especially when unpredictable situations or errors occur.

Configuration instead of programming

The production environment in the experiment included both the digital elements to be operated (machines, workpieces, production line) and the spatial conditions (such as the warehouse) All necessary steps/tasks of a worker for the training phase of a new production process were mapped in a mobile assistant specially configured for the experiment. Depending on the scenario, the test person can act independently and call up additional information and instructions at any time. All interactions of the test persons as well as the corresponding system status were recorded by the simulation system and are available for evaluation.

"With the system in Potsdam it was possible to obtain results for our research work quickly and in a targeted manner. By configuring the experimental setup according to our needs, we were able to concentrate on the experiment design without being dependent on technical restrictions," says Dr. Gergana Vladova, head of the research group "Education and Further Education in the Digital Society" at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society in Berlin. 

"As a flexible discourse machine, the Potsdam model factory enabled us to develop and implement scenarios quickly and easily. A useful tool for interdisciplinary research, we will gladly return to it in our further research". Dr. Philip Wotschack is a postdoctoral researcher at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society in the research group "Globalization, Labour and Production" at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).