Digitization in Manufacturing KIT and Fraunhofer Build Research Factory

With the ground-breaking ceremony, the cooperation partners Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft officially founded the Karlsruhe Research Factory.

From the end of 2020, new production technologies will be planned, tested, and transferred to industry faster than before using modern digitization methods in the 15 million euro plant on KIT's East Campus. The project will make an important contribution to the recently adopted "Strategy Artificial Intelligence" of the Federal Government and is considered significant for the innovative strength of Germany as a business location.

Germany owes much of its prosperity to its ability to bring innovative products to the world market quickly and repeatedly. In an age of global competition, digitalization and artificial intelligence, the manufacture of these products must constantly reinvent itself. On the one hand, in order to maintain scientific and technological advantages over competitors and imitators and on the other hand, in order to survive in the conflicting areas of new technologies, complex manufacturing processes, increasing individualization, and extreme variety. Against the background of this challenge, KIT with its wbk Institute for Production Technology and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft with its Institutes for Chemical Technology ICT and for Optronics, Systems Engineering and Image Evaluation IOSB have agreed to build the Karlsruhe Research Factory on the East Campus of KIT.

The goal of the Karlsruhe Research Factory is to systematically develop and extend its lead in new, challenging manufacturing processes. The scientists want to learn how to produce high-quality products at a very early stage, i.e., when the manufacturing processes required for a new product are not yet fully understood and mastered. With the help of state-of-the-art measurement, sensor, and control technology, they want to develop methods that are suitable for quickly converting new production technologies into safe and profitable industrial manufacturing processes. Production can start at a very early stage because intelligent process controls ensure that the first, qualitatively flawless product copies are produced despite the still immature production technologies.

In concrete terms, this is done as follows: Machine learning and artificial intelligence processes use the data collected by sensors to identify correlations between quality-related data and process parameters. In this way, the production plant already in operation "learns" which parameters produce good results. It is the declared goal of the research factory stakeholders to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence not only to individual production steps or directly successive processes, but to capture and improve entire process chains.

The significantly shortened "time-to-market" should in particular enable small and medium-sized companies to be present on the target markets with new products much earlier than before. The participating institutes wbk (KIT), ICT, and IOSB (Fraunhofer) combine the competences in production, manufacturing, and process engineering as well as in automation, sensor, and information technology that are necessary to implement this scientifically demanding objective. The application fields of the research factory are electromobility and lightweight construction, but also other innovative fields for which intelligent and economical production technology must be established with Industry 4.0 and AI methods.