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The production of industrial goods will function quite differently in the future. The pilot factory of the Vienna University of Technology is researching how intelligent production works.

Today, making products is more than just setting up a machine and pressing the big green button. Industrial production is becoming ever more complicated and networked. In the future, individual production steps will no longer be able to be viewed separately in production; all areas of production will be networked and coordinated with each other in terms of information technology. The Vienna University of Technology is now taking an important step into the new age of production – in the pilot factory of the Vienna University of Technology, research and testing will be carried out into what the industry of tomorrow should look like.

The Internet of Things

Intelligent IT systems will ensure in the future that different machines are optimally coordinated and react to each other – in this context, one often speaks of “Industry 4.0” or “Smart Production” based on the “Internet of Things” or cyber-physical systems , Neither should it come to idle runs, for instance because the required components are not yet available, nor should storage costs arise due to overproduction in one step, and the system should respond intelligently to failures. The planning is not taken over by people at a central switching point, but significantly supported by communication between the individual devices. The supplier industry and sales can also be integrated into the overall system.

This has many advantages: The production will be faster, cheaper and more energy-efficient, and it will also be possible to respond to individual customer wishes much better than before. Making customized products is much more difficult than making a single mass product. “Producing large quantities of a consistently consistent product over a long period of time makes it relatively easy to optimize the production process,” says Prof. Detlef Gerhard, Dean of the Faculty of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the Vienna University of Technology. “The goal, however, is to be able to achieve the same level of efficiency, even with more flexible, individualized production – and for this the industry needs completely new strategies. In particular, we need a consistent digital image of the product and the production system to simulate and optimize.”

Experimenting in the pilot factory

Developing, testing and improving such new strategies for the industry requires a realistic testing environment – real machines, real production chains, a real product. “In other pilot factories, they sometimes tried demonstration products that were actually worthless,” says Prof. Friedrich Bleicher from the Institute of Production Engineering and High-Power Laser Technology at Vienna University of Technology. “You can try to simulate a production process by assembling something and then disassembling it at the end. However, it will not be possible to obtain any findings relevant to practice. ”

In the pilot factory at the Vienna University of Technology, on the other hand, genuine, usable products are produced. They chose components from 3D printers because they are relatively complex objects that can be produced in a variety of variations. The production is therefore sufficiently challenging to be scientifically interesting. “After all, you can not improve a Formula 1 car if you just drive around it at the parking lot,” says Friedrich Bleicher.

Ideas for the industry

The pilot factory is important for several reasons: Scientific know-how about optimal production techniques should be developed, which then benefits the economy. At the same time, the pilot factory will play a decisive role in the teaching of the Vienna University of Technology. Students can get to know and co-develop the entire value chain there – from design through production and assembly to quality assurance and logistics. It should be possible there to develop new prototypes and new process technologies. Last but not least, the pilot factory should also be used for further education – skilled workers from the production area should get to know new ideas, which they can then implement in their own companies.

The pilot factory is being built in Seestadt Aspern, where the laboratories of researchTUb, a cooperation between TU Vienna, Vienna Business Agency and real estate developer wien3420, have been housed. Four million euros are to be invested in total, half of which is provided by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, the rest comes from the Vienna University of Technology and more than 20 partner companies from industry.

A re-industrialization of Europe?

The fact that production technology is changing worldwide is undeniable. The fact that jobs are lost due to increasing automation is probably unavoidable. Nevertheless – or for that very reason – it is important for Europe to rely on modern production techniques. “Improved production could enable outsourced production processes to be brought back to Europe. Flexibility, adaptability and the ability to put a product into production quickly can often be more important than low labor costs, “says Detlef Gerhard. “Industry 4.0 can strengthen our manufacturing sector and lead to re-industrialization.”