Dec 14, 2023

How BMW is testing next-gen factory control with technology from Ascon Systems

Case Study

The manufacturing industry is undergoing a significant transformation. To stay competitive, manufacturers must explore new ways to become more agile, flexible, and efficient overall. Traditional automation technologies fall short of these goals, which means they are not by themselves sufficient to achieve transformation.
But what if there were a way to test future approaches to manufacturing without building entire factories? Is it possible to keep simulating various scenarios, approaches, and events until you discover real improvements in production processes — before investing in new facilities and technologies? The BMW Group’s answer is a decisive “yes.”
BMW built its Innovation Hub at Dingolfing, Germany for this very purpose. This real-world laboratory at the company’s largest European production site is where it tests future technologies and implements them as proofs of concept. From February to August 2023, Ascon Systems worked with NVIDIA and a team from the BMW Group on a groundbreaking two-phase project using the Innovation Hub. The goal was to find ways to control and monitor the factory of the future in real-time through a digital twin. Some of the questions explored include: How can we visualize equipment locations, movements, machine status, and process parameters in NVIDIA’s Omniverse? And how can we reconfigure and validate shopfloor processes and manufacturing cells?

Implementing the pilot phase with digital twins

Technicians built a 5-meter long functional scale model of an assembly line with workpiece carriers for the pilot at the BMW Innovation Hub. The automated model coordinates multiple assembly and inspection stations to recreate key capabilities in vehicle manufacturing.
The Ascon Systems Automation Platform and digital twins serve to model the process logic of the assembly line. The digital twins perform several functions here. They operate as IT services which control the equipment while also providing the company with comprehensive information on processes and completed products. The model assembly line illustrates how a real shop floor and digital twin can interact to meet the needs of day-to-day operations. It’s a compelling demonstration of how manufacturers can already use data to manage the factory of the future today in much the same way you would operate a data center.

Integration into NVIDIA's Industrial Metaverse

Next, Ascon Systems used the Ascon Systems Metaverse Portal to connect the model assembly line to the NVIDIA Omniverse, the company’s industrial metaverse product.

The result is a synchronized link between the physical assembly line and the Omniverse.
The resulting virtual environment allows you to track, optimize, and make changes to live production, material flows, and equipment from anywhere in the world. You can also run replays for X-in-the-loop simulations. This industrial metaverse implementation is the only one of its kind in the world and offers the scalability and flexibility to fulfill countless use cases.

Solutions from the Industrial Metaverse: Three Examples

By integrating Ascon Systems technologies with the NVIDIA Omniverse, various issues in the design of production systems and facilities can be identified early and avoided. Here are three examples of potential applications:

• Collaboration: All employees have access to the same information in a clear and transparent manner. Whether it's the facility planner checking the current status in Plant X, the process manager monitoring the condition of their equipment, or an employee seeking information about the last maintenance, these applications enable staff to observe the actual value stream in their factory. They receive information in the context of the relevant processes and the real-world activities taking place.

Anywhere: Whether on-site or remotely, you can access real manufacturing data from anywhere in the world. Employees no longer need to be physically present to obtain information, monitor processes, or test changes. This translates to increased efficiency on all levels, including significant cost savings from reduced travel expenses.

Intuitive Operation: An appealing and modern graphical interface displays information on tablets or computers. Operators can access process parameters, quality data, and faults with excellent usability including mouse-over tips and intuitive navigation.

Disruptive Potential in Industrial Automation

The results of the testing demonstrated just how significant an improvement in the planning and operation of production systems and factories is possible with a seamless combination of collaboration and simulation technologies. Neither the visualizations on the automation platform nor the changes in the digital twin and, consequently, the real shop floors, required programmers or automation experts. The results also illustrate how a new technological approach to daily tasks in planning and control can lead to a resilient factory, where processes are implemented in a resource-efficient, globally connected, and highly flexible manner.

Conclusion

The test was a resounding success. The implementation in the industrial metaverse is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It is scalable, flexible, and an example of how production in the industrial metaverse leads to resilience and efficiency.

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