AMB 2016 Germany: What will future machines look like?
The basic principle of machine tools has changed very little over the years. Now, in times of "Industry 4.0", actually only another term for "networking", the machine tool must be opened up to go digital and communicate says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Brecher from RWTH Aachen University.
Professor Brecher, how must the machine tool of the future change for Industry 4.0?
In our opinion, two aspects are crucial: digitalisation or virtualisation of machine tools and their networking. In the first case engineering will be substantially optimised both through meaningful models of mechanical - i.e. static, dynamic and thermal behaviour - and control technology behaviour (e.g. the drive train or control models). The objective here is to simulate the subsequent machine as far as the process and detect challenges at an early stage.
Networking will have more of an effect on the following operating phase. Future machine tools must contain semantic interfaces in order to provide, for example, process data in high resolution for more in-depth analyses, if possible in real time, or be functionally integrated in networked systems.
What effect will increasing automation of processes, especially through robots, have on the design of a machine tool?
Automated production cells already exist in tool construction and mouldmaking for example. However, we have identified major challenges relating to cost-effective operation of these cells (robots, machine tools, bearings) in multi-variant small series - i.e. the typical product range of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMUs). Processes often cannot come on stream in parallel with production time, or the expertise required in this case is not available. To date, there have only been a few approaches to define a functionally extensive interface between a machine tool and a robot that can be integrated into the CAD/CAM-NC chain or the RC chain. This becomes very exciting when we consider flexible automation, e.g. by means of collaborative robotics. We also see great potential here for SMUs and small series. We are currently establishing a working party which will examine this question both on the research side and during direct industrial cooperation.