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Fraunhofer IOSB published a study on the car factory of the future

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Our partner Fraunhofer IOSB recently published a study how automakers can embrace their flexible production, together with the consultancy og PwC. How can automotive production remain competitive in times of ever greater diversity of variants and ever faster product cycles? The new study "At the end of the line - How automakers can embrace flexible production" sees the solution, at least for the premium segment, in intelligently networked, self-organizing production. This means rethinking the pearl chain principle established today. The effort could pay for itself within a very short time, as the study authors from Strategy& Deutschland, the strategy consultancy of PwC, and the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB write.

Moving autonomously, even before they are finished: Cars are navigating through the factory on a driverless transport system instead of on the assembly line, on an individually optimized course between the modular, versatile and fully networked machines and systems. Behind this, instead of human planning and control, is digitized, AI-driven self-organization that is not limited to the factory floor but extends across the entire supply chain. This is the vision that the study now published paints for the future production of cars that compete for the favor of individual buyers - as opposed to the production of volume models that are used for car sharing, for example.

"The idea of self-organizing production can already be found in the first documents on Industrie 4.0 - and even then it was not new," explains Dr.-Ing. Olaf Sauer, one of the authors of the study. In 2013, for example, acatech described in its "Implementation Recommendations for the Future Project Industry 4.0" the vision that "intelligent products (...) are capable (of) steering themselves independently through production due to their ad hoc networking capability as well as by carrying a digital product description".

Today, the state of the art in body construction, painting and assembly is the control principle of the pearl chain, consistently implemented up to "just-in-sequence" delivery: The components arrive in exactly the right sequence for the vehicles or pearls to be produced. "However, the increasing diversity of vehicle types, variants and derivatives is pushing the pearl chain principle to its limits," explains Sauer, who coordinates the Automation and Digitalization business unit at Fraunhofer IOSB. "For example, the actual work content and effort of a particular processing step can vary greatly from vehicle to vehicle - yet a uniform average cycle time must apply to all of them."

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