Software agents in automobile production

July 10, 2008

There are more than 450 automated production stations - from body-shell work to assembly - in Daimler's C-class production plant in Bremen. In order to keep everything in view, control systems map the entire production flow and make it possible to see the whole factory at a glance. If a machine breaks down or some other disruption occurs, this can be seen in the control system. However, the system does not indicate the resulting effects. Are there likely to be bottlenecks in the early shift? At which station? Will the output targets be reached? The greater the complexity of a production line, the more difficult it is to assess the overall impact of a disruption. This situation will soon change: The world's first agent-based production control system ProVis.Agent® controls and monitors the Mercedes C-class assembly lines. "The system works out what the worker in the control room needs to do in order to achieve the defined output target: for instance by postponing a scheduled break, redeploying the workers on the production lines, or changing the sequence of the vehicles at short notice," explains Dr.-Ing. Olaf Sauer, head of the control systems business unit at the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB in Karlsruhe, where ProVis.Agent was developed.

Conventional shopfloor-related software systems are not usually interlinked, which means that information has to be painstakingly and to some extent manually collected and interpreted. "A new generation of shopfloor-related IT systems has become established to ensure that planning systems and operative control systems interact smoothly. They are known by the collective term of 'manufacturing execution systems', or MES for short, and their components are interlinked by software agents or services," explains Sauer.

The system was recently commissioned at the press shop in Bremen. "This is the first time we have ever been able to integrate information from different press shop IT systems in the control system," says Sauer. "There are cameras monitoring the scrap metal conveyers and the loading of wagons, and an operating data registration system monitors the presses and conveyers. The press shop uses automatically guided vehicles, a new inventory management system, and SAP for order management. Our integration platform combines all of these applications in a central control room for overarching operation and observation."
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Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

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