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INESC TEC developed an automation system to make factories highly flexible

The development of scalable and flexible automation systems, which enable the optimisation and maintenance of production lines in real time, thus adapting the automation of a factory according to the immediate needs of production. 

23rd July 2020

This was the objective of the European project Scalable 4.0 – Scalable automation for flexible production systems, that had the participation INESC TEC’sCentre for Robotics in Industry and Intelligent Systems(CRIIS).

“The majority of production lines in factories is underoptimised i.e. whenever there’s a need to reconvert production, namely concerning the type of product and the quantities (similarly to what is currently happening in many factories, due to the pandemic), said production lines take a long time to adapt to these changes – many times disregarding the whole factory layout. With this system, we were able to visually simulate the entire production line and manage automation needs in a more flexible manner”, explained Germano Veiga, assistant centre coordinator at CRIIS, in charge of coordinating the project.

The Pilots at Simoldes Plásticos and Peugeot-Citroën

In addition to the automation management systems, ScalABLE 4.0 also focused on the implementation of technology that enables the fast integration of robots and equipment into factory production, thus creating highly flexible industries. Two entities piloted these solutions: the Portuguese company Simoldes Plásticos, and the Peugeot-Citroën factory, part of the PSA group, in Trémery (France).  In both cases, and thanks to customised solutions, the economic impact of this project will be considerable: by dynamically scaling production resources for the current volume and production variant, the two end users will reduce the amount of resources used and overstock.

“Regarding Simoldes Plásticos, they had a problem of under-automation, because the company had a great diversity of products and it was not profitable to invest in traditional robotisation solutions. In this sense, we explored other ways to install cost-effective robots. For instance, we created a multi-product line to replace four individual lines (single-product). The company can later add two extra robots to this line, according to the production needs, to help packing the items. Thanks to this implementation, Simoldes was able to reduce the number of direct and indirect operators by 75% and 20%, respectively. This change also made it possible to reduce the necessary equipment by 25%”, said Vítor Resende, of Simoldes Plásticos.

As to Peugeot-Citroën, the team was able to verify the existence of over-automation, since the activities carried out by robots in the assembly lines were often greater than those required, namely during periods of lower demand. Hence, it became necessary to adapt it, in order to include human operators in said situations, while adjusting the level of automation to the current demand. Thanks to this paradigm shift, the company is expecting savings of €10M in the introduction of new products for production.

Besides INESC TEC and Simoldes, the Portuguese partners also include Critical Manufacturing and Sarkkis Robotics. The consortium also comprises the Peugeot-Citroën PSA Automobiles Group, Fraunhofer IPA, Lund University and the University of Aalborg. The EU Research and Innovation programme H2020 allocated €4M to the project, under agreement number 723658.

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The researchers mentioned in this news piece are associated with UP-FEUP