Industry 4.0 is not just a hot topic for conversation at AAU. A ‘smart factory’ allows students, researchers and business partners to dive into the manufacturing of the future to try, test and discover the tangible opportunities of industry 4.0.
AAU’s Department of Materials and Production houses a laboratory resembling a small factory which can be used to demonstrate how manufacturing companies can benefit from smart technologies. The Smart Production Lab is a playground for companies, research partners, researchers and students to collaborate on real production setups and has become a platform for innovation, collaboration, research and learning. The small factory produces mobile phones.
‘But the actual product is of no importance. It’s the process that matters, and we use this production as an example of how we can create customised products quickly and automatically,’ explains Kelvin Koldsø Nygaard, research assistant at the Department of Materials and Production.
The factory comprises hardware and software which are not unique as such. But when they are combined and when various professional groups, researchers and students from various disciplines collaborate on testing technologies, the potential of industry 4.0 and digitisation is unleashed.
‘That’s when the magic happens. What we have created around the Smart Production Lab integrating the various academic environments is quite unique. When my robot is integrated with Big Data or augmented reality, the production facility shows its true value,’ says Kelvin Koldsø Nygaard. The Smart Production Lab is thus the basis for co-creation.
A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR BOTH STUDENTS AND COMPANIES
The Smart Production Lab has also become a vibrant meeting point for students from different fields of study from the University. Before, each of the academic areas and technologies would carry out experiments in different locations losing the unique opportunities for synergy offered by this facility.
Furthermore, the Smart Production Lab has become a focal point for private companies to test and understand the opportunities of industry 4.0. For some companies industry 4.0 may seem utopian and abstract, but the learning factory provides a physical simulation of its opportunities.
‘You can’t simply open a book and learn how to do this. You need to do it in practice to improve production lines. So we’ve had quite a few visits from various companies to see with their own eyes how industry 4.0 works. We can give them this opportunity as well as mutual insight into the challenges we’ll face in the future,’ Kelvin Koldsø Nygaard explains.
Some companies are further along in their transition to industry 4.0 and can therefore use the lab for testing concrete solutions. Grundfos is one of these companies. They are currently testing how to use the data available in their advanced production lines to identify problems in the line more swiftly. However, stopping the production line is very expensive, so Grundfos is collaborating with a group of students on a solution, and they are using the Smart Production Lab to find this solution.
‘Rather than developing solutions ourselves that we would have to test on our own production line which runs 24-7, the students can use the Smart Production Lab to simulate our production line and carry out the preliminary work for us. This is a win for us because it means that we only have to stop our production line shortly and that the process will run smoother when implemented,’ says Alexander Larsen, Lead Digitalization Engineer in Grundfos.