Gently, he grasps the metal part and passes it to his colleague. As he does so, he pays close attention to all her movements so he can stop before they bump into each other. Despite his height of 1.75 meters, his movements are effortless and careful, and he doesn’t make a single mistake. “He” is the APAS assistant. This robot, which can collaborate with people without any physical contact, is part of Workplace 4.0, a concept Bosch is presenting at Hannover Messe 2017. Industrial workspaces of the future are fully connected and focus on the needs of employees. “In the coming decades, everyday work in the manufacturing industry will undergo fundamental changes. People and machines will work more closely together than ever before. Industry 4.0 supports workers and makes their work easier,” said Dr. Stefan Hartung, a member of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH whose responsibilities include the Industrial Technology business sector.
A workstation that automatically adapts to the worker
At Hannover Messe, Bosch is introducing Workplace 4.0: a workstation that adapts to the worker. For example, the work surface positions itself at the right height, and workers can receive their instructions as a projection at whatever speed they choose. “Digital connectivity and production assistants will make day-to-day work in the industrial sector safer, easier, and more productive,” said Hartung. Automotive manufacturers and suppliers are already using collaborative robots such as Bosch’s APAS assistant, but so are producers of consumer goods.
Artificial intelligence supports workers in the production environment
Workplace 4.0 envisions people and machines working closely together, a fact clearly illustrated by the APAS inspector, too, which is likewise making an appearance in Hannover. With the help of a learning image-processing function, the APAS inspector automatically detects when the surface of a production part does not correspond to its specifications. The worker teaches the machine just once regarding how much deviation to tolerate and at what point a part has to be scrapped. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the machine can then apply what it has learned to all subsequent quality checks and carry them out independently. The APAS inspector saves human workers from having to do this monotonous task and ensures a consistently high level of quality for all parts.
Connectivity enables a constant overview of machine data
Connectivity means machine data generated in Workplace 4.0 can be compiled, analysed, and visualised. Workers can view information on the status of the production environment – for instance, via cycle-time analysis or part and error counters – on a single screen. They can check at any time to see if everything is running according to plan. “Many tasks that used to cost workers time unnecessarily can now be handled quickly and simply, thanks to digital connectivity. In the manufacturing sector, Industry 4.0 makes an enormous difference in easing the burden of day-to-day work,” said Dr. Stefan Aßmann, head of Connected Industry at Bosch, at the Hannover Messe advance press conference. According to a study by the consulting firm Accenture, 63 per cent of the workforce expects increasing digital connectivity will improve their working conditions, with just 6 per cent expecting the opposite.
Production lines automatically detect the necessary work steps
Nowadays, industrial enterprises and their employees have to be able to quickly respond to new requirements. “With a flexible production facility, companies can better react to the current needs of the market,” said Aßmann. He gave Bosch’s multi-product line in Homburg, Germany, as an example. There, Bosch can manufacture 200 different hydraulic modules from more than 2,000 different components. Thanks to connectivity, these components are automatically ordered in time. The modules control the work and driving hydraulics in trucks or tractors, which help do things such as incline loading surfaces or lift a plow. The production line’s nine stations are connected by a smart network. With an RFID chip attached to each workpiece, the stations know how the finished product has to be assembled and what steps are necessary. The work plans required for assembling the hydraulics components are automatically called up and shown on the monitors as a photo or video. The display is customised to each associate’s level of training, and shown in their native language. The aim is to offer associates the best possible support in their work.
Bosch offers everything concerning connectivity from a single source. The company’s Industry 4.0 offerings for customers include not just software and product solutions for manufacturing and logistics, but also services and consulting, resulting in concepts that are tailored to each customer. With Industry 4.0 solutions, Bosch hopes to generate extra sales of over one billion euros and to save another billion by the year 2020.