Publish Date: 10.06.2019

Category: News from the University

A smart factory demo centre was opened in the Laboratory for Handling, Assembly and Pneumatics (LASIM) at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering (UL FS), making it the only such demo centre in Slovenia. That centre was created in parallel with the GOSTOP programme, the largest S4 smart specialisation programme in Slovenia in the field of smart factories. The concept of the demo centre follows the basic concept of S4 smart specialisation, which is to demonstrate the innovative use and implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies and the smart factory concept in an actual industrial environment.

In order to improve its market competitiveness, the Slovenian economy requires the digitalisation of all processes at companies. Under the leadership of Prof. Niko Herakovič, the LASIM at the UL FS developed its own architecture model of the factory of the future (LASFA), which it successfully transferred to an actual laboratory environment and in part to an actual industrial environment. To that end, the sole focus was on the efficiency of the production process. Smart factories are more efficient, intelligent, flexible, agile and, above all, more autonomous than their traditional counterparts.

The smart factory demo centre is built on the concept of distributed systems, and includes all of the key technologies required for the functioning of a smart factory. The backbone of the smart factory comprises a global digital twin and a global digital agent, and artificial intelligence, supported by machine vision. For that purpose, every process and system has its own digital twin and one or more digital agents which, in the context of AI support, guide processes and resolve problems automatically at the local level, while all processes are visualised and transparent. RFID technology facilitates the traceability of every process and ensures communication between the elements and subjects of the smart factory. In addition to robotised processes, the demo centre also includes a smart manual work station, on which it is possible to demonstrate various smart factory technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, the digitalisation and transparency of instructions for assembly operations, the flexibility of assembly points and feeders, the ergonomics of work stations, etc. In this way, the smart factory in the demo environment facilitates completely flexible, agile and fully automated planning, and the optimisation of the work plan and production process.

“We must be aware that the production processes of the future will be based on cyber connectivity, digital twins and digital agents supported by artificial intelligence, and on other key Industry 4.0 technologies. The development and establishment of the centre has resulted in an innovative scientific research model that illustrates a contemporary and practical functioning example of the digitalisation of production processes. We have thus opened the doors to industry, so that representatives of companies can see how individual processes actually work. We can then work together to find a solution to bring digitalisation to their environment and adapt it to their needs,” explained Prof. Herakovič.

Valter Leban from Kolektor added, “Only a smart factory is capable of learning and not simply performing pre-programmed tasks. A factory that is merely automated is not smart, as it does not function according to the sense–think–act principle.”

Dr Marjan Rihar, Director of the Chamber of Electronics and Electrical Industries of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia, emphasised the importance of the demo centre for the economy. “Our companies must change the way they do business, make a digital transformation and raise the added-value of their work, and the chamber’s primary task is to encourage smaller companies to follow that trend. That is exactly what the new demo centre will facilitate. By combining our strengths, we can make progress and ensure that Slovenian companies are more than just followers; that they are the leaders in their respective areas.”

Rudi Pajntar, Director of the Factory of the Future Strategic Development-Innovation Partnership (SRIP), provided more details about this breakthrough area and the impact of such activities on the development of Slovenia. A smart factory links people, machines, operations and breakthrough technologies, which is a very complex process. “A smart factory reduces costs over the long term, making it a great incentive for companies to take a long-term approach in this area. If we continue to work together well as we have in the past, we will achieve a great deal. We will strive to include additional new technologies in the future,” added Mr Pajntar.

Dr Peter Wostner, head of the Smart Specialisation Coordination Sector (SVRK), talked about the steps already taken towards smart specialisation in Slovenia and plans for the future. He stated that digital transformation is currently one of the most important topics for Slovenia, and emphasised the importance and contribution of the demo centre as an example of good practice.