The “Orange” Point of View over Factory Digitalization

Because of either the colour of tulips or in honour of the Royal family, descending from the Orange-Nassau lineage, orange is the colour traditionally associated to Dutch people, very able to find special engineering and production solutions to face complex issues. Developing and testing Industry 4.0-oriented automation solutions in close cooperation with customers is a primary target of Delft’s eXperience Centre, where the 17th Festo International Press Conference took place. Here’s what we could see.

by Fabrizio Dalle Nogare

The idea that Industry 4.0 may affect above all, if not only, the largest countries is simply misleading. This is clearly proven by the experience that we have been able to make on December 3rd and 4th by participating in the 17th International Press Conference organized by Festo, which this year was held in Delft, a Dutch town known above all for its majolica and for the ancient technical university. Here stands the innovative Festo eXperience Centre. Land of Holland, therefore. A nation certainly not extensive and with a rather high population density. Features, these, that have always pushed the Dutch people to look for engineering solutions (let’s think of the water canalization system) out of the ordinary. In this scenario, the local industry requires indeed special automation solutions. That’s why digitization feels at home in here. Precision assembly, electronics, healthcare, pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural industries are some of the leading Dutch production sectors. Our participation in the International Press Conference has allowed us to visit the Lely production facility in Maassluis. It is indeed a leading company in a niche sector – that of robotic milking systems – with a strong technological content. The long-lasting collaboration between Lely and Festo led to an integrated automation system, the Astronaut A5, that allows users to monitor every single process stage, with the primary goal of simplifying and making more sustainable the work cycle that the farmer is supposed to manage, as well as to promote the welfare of the cows.

From “Build and forget” to “Build and create value”
Automation technologies in the digitalization era envisage the development of “classic” automation products such as drives, control systems and valves to become smart solutions, thanks to the integration of additional functionalities, as well as to the possibility to communicate with each other and with the highest levels in the automation pyramid.
All this establishes the transition from a “Build and forget” logic to a “Build and create value” one, as explained by Frank Melzer, member of the Board, Product and Technology Management of Festo and recently appointed as head of the Industry 4.0 Platform, the Steering Committee for company digitalization. A very important network indeed in Germany for the digital transformation of production gathering together over 150 companies.
“Thanks to digitalisation – said Dr Melzer – the products installed on production systems keep on generating added value”. A very concrete example comes from the concept, underlined during the event reserved for the trade press, of “Smartenance”, resulting from smart maintenance. Thanks to the information that comes from the components about their status and their operation, it is possible to schedule, monitor and analyze maintenance operations. Festo has developed a cloud-based application, available in the main online stores, which, combined with a web page available to production managers, allows the maintenance program to be managed in a lean and digital way. In fact, Smartenance is the first purely digital product from Festo.

The demos in the show room and the training areas
Back to the Delft eXperience Centre – which hosted more than 1,500 customers in its first year, has been designed to recreate the atmosphere of a start-up, pushing people to work on shared projects and allowing them to test new solutions – where everything is thought for customers: from the areas inside the building to the demos installed in the show room, up to innovative solutions such as the Connectivity Finder, a web portal created in the Netherlands with the aim to guide users who have to choose between the several communication possibilities within an automation architecture.
The Energy Efficiency Module, however, allows users to monitor energy consumption, even remotely, so to intervene promptly in case of any problems or anomalies thanks to notifications that are sent also via smartphone or tablet. Based on the innovations in the field of home automation, even company management can be done remotely.
The flagship of the eXperience Centre is, however, the training area, curated by Festo Didactic. A place – equipped both with machines and production systems in line with Industry 4.0, and with more basic systems – where to welcome students in order to create projects, conduct experiments and tests, make teaching tools available, from machines to books. Because, that’s what they say in Festo, a learning path, even in the age of digitization, must start from the theoretical notions and from the knowledge of the basic components that lay in automation systems.

The latest developments of the Bionic Learning Network
From teaching to research, the step is rather short. In fact, on the subject of applied research, Festo more than 10 years ago began a journey based on a precise philosophy: studying the movements and characteristics of the creatures living in nature in order to take them as inspiration for the development of mechatronic systems for motion transmission and control.
All this in compliance with the motto “Inspired by Nature” and in collaboration with some prestigious research centres, universities, institutes and start-ups.
Just 10 years ago, in 2008, the jellyfish appeared, able to move in the water in an elegant and apparently effortless way thanks to their adaptive tentacles controlled by an electric drive mounted in the body of the jellyfish itself.
In the 2.0 version, the sensors added to the various parts allow for real-time diagnostics of the object condition, communicated by means, once again, of an app.
New projects carried out by the Bionic Learning Network are the BionicWheelBot, a representation of a type of spider that lives in desert environments able not only to walk, as for other species, but also to do somersaults and rolling adapting to the environment that surrounds it, and the BionicFlyingFox, a type of bat commonly known as a flying fox. The interesting aspect lays in their ability to manage the semi-autonomous movement in a defined space through the installation of infrared cameras that continuously monitor the object’s position.