Digitalization and AI in Production

The 18th Festo international press conference, held at Festo Automation in Barcelona, put the spotlight on cutting edge digital and AI technology in industry: a combination of technologies able to free up enormous potential in the production field.

by Silvia Crespi

The state of the art in digitalization and Artificial Intelligence and how to exploit their potential to improve productivity efficiency: this was the theme of the 18th Festo international press conference in Barcelona, Spain on December 3rd and 4th.
Today, the Catalan city is a hub of innovation and technology: according to the Nesta foundation it is the world’s fourth most technologically advanced city. This was reiterated by Oliver Jung, Chairman of the Management Board of Festo AG, during the opening session where he also spoke about the bright future Festo automation is looking toward, despite the internationally felt recession and the slowing of the German automotive sector: this multinational will not have problems maintaining stable performance thanks to the diversification it has created in its export markets.

How to effectively exploit AI potential in production
With its smart digital solutions, Festo brings together its industrial application experience with its know-how in IT development. Now, AI is making its contribution felt. Today, algorithms analyze data through the sensors installed on machinery, foresee malfunctions before they occur, tomorrow they will be monitoring, controlling and supervising flows in a complex network environment. While they may not substitute human decision-making capability, they will certainly be supporting the decision-making process.
“If AI is already a part of our daily life – declared Oliver Jung – (simply think of face and voice recognition) industry will see a radically different approach. The industrial automation pyramid is changing: its traditional structure with linear connections between production and other organizational levels and is being transformed into an inter-connected and synchronized structure. At the same time, digitalization through digital twinning is creating virtual copies of machinery and systems: processes, parameters and configuration are carried out on these virtual models without having to go through the cost and time of real processes. Result: a drastic reduction in settling and machinery down time”.
“To increase efficiency in industrial production – continued Jung – it is essential to combine machine operator experience with statistical AI methodology”.

A holistic approach to digitalization: from the component to training
Festo promotes a holistic approach to digitalization, over a number of levels from Smart components to digital production, from digitalized companies to digital training. Jung declared Festo aims to supply increasingly smart components with integrated AI.
On the first level, digitalization focuses on the component or production plant without a cloud infrastructure, an essential element where production is spread globally.
Thanks to the Festo IoT Gateway, production sites can be equipped with AI without major upheaval. Algorithms and modelling can be directly and remotely updated without changes being made to the PLC and independently from the computer and free PLC resources.
Michael Hoffmeister, Digital Business Executive at Festo, looked further into the company’s digital transformation, with their digital solution range continuing to grow with products from design to simulation configuration, plant functionality, maintenance, all the way along the value chain.
With Festo Projects, users can centrally and simply co-ordinate their automation projects with HQ through the entire product life cycle. The software provides a fast and clear data configuration panorama.
Once the plant is up and running, the IoT CPX-IOT dashboard and gateway visualize component condition meaning operators can quickly identify any irregularity and adopt corrective measures before breakdown occurs.
Festo Projects is the platform for the lifecycle of the so-called digital twin being used by both OEMs and End-Users.
Smartenance, on the other hand, is the digital maintenance program, available as an App, allowing the end user to plan, monitor and evaluate plant maintenance. This has been implemented in many Festo plants around the world with an ROI of less than six months.

Bringing AI up close with machinery
Tanja Maap, Managing Director at Resolto explained how AI can be directly inserted into machinery for data to be analyzed at source and in real time.
Resolto, the AI specialist, has been part of the Festo group since 2018 and, with its Scraitec platform, supports Festo in the refining of its pneumatic and electronic automation technology for Industry 4.0. Considering sensor supplied data is analyzed on site right next to the machinery, it is possible to save energy, shorten cycle times and cut production error.
Scraitec supplies precise and on time prognoses, carries out diagnosis and creates a framework for any intervention needing to be carried out.

Adding value to the Additive Manufacturing value chain
The second day of the event, Wednesday, December 4th, Festo organized a visit to the HP 3D printing excellence centre in Saint Cugat. This is the biggest HP R&D centre outside the US. HP has been aiding industry for many years in digital transformation, a process which requires a partner ecosystem. Festo is exactly that and the collaboration between the two companies is reciprocal.
Festo products for pneumatics and electronics mean faster process automation, creating the foundation for serial production. Festo products, such as movement and pressure management, are fundamental for stable additive production processes. Festo solutions are entirely connected through the control hierarchy, from mechanics to the cloud, meaning HP can develop flexible, automated 3D printers leading to increased production and repeatability.
Festo itself uses 3D Multi Jet Fusion technology from HP in its technology hub in Scharnhausen, in Germany, to manufacture serial components that cannot be produced under traditional means. The adoption of 3D printers from HP is letting Festo free up the full potential of this technology and add value to its clients supply chain.
Describing their experience with Festo, Fabio Annunziata (Sr Director – Strategic Alliances HP) and Havier Segura (General Manager Festo Spain/Portugal) had this to say: “We are delighted to support Festo, a leader in industrial automation, to fulfil its needs as a company and those of its clients. Festo is taking full advantage of 3D printing solutions to speed up time-to-market, explore distributed production potential and optimize complex supply chains. We will continue to work reciprocally to drive the Smart factory transformation.

Managers will be the new “influencers” in the digital transformation
“It isn’t a question of technology but one of leadership change. Xavier Segura described the professional figures required in the Industry 4.0 scenario and the skill sets replacing those that have gone before. Segura also presented the profile of the new 4.0 leader: increasingly an influencer, able to decode changes and rapidly react to new competitive environments.
As an influencer, these will be the figures to push companies in their quest to optimize data analysis creating effective communication networks throughout the company.