Jan 11, 2024

Testing future business models: Successful X-Forge research project completed.

Our technologies optimize industrial processes for our customers and pave the way to data-driven manufacturing. What many people don’t know is that we are also using our technologies to conduct research and develop new business models. Collaborating with other companies allows us to uncover new opportunities and explore the role our solutions can play to help increase efficiency in the factory of the future.

We’ve recently achieved some research results that are especially promising. Over the last two years, we’ve examined the role of data in the product life cycle as part of the now concluded Product Life Cycle Enrichment as a Service (PLCEaaS) project working in collaboration with WITTENSTEIN SETruPhysics, and Fraunhofer IPA. It’s one of the four showcase projects of X-Forge, an Industry 4.0 research program funded by the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg as part of its Invest BW initiative.

X-Forge: Four showcase projects to research XaaS models in mechanical and plant engineering

There are currently not enough successful XaaS implementations in real-world mechanical and plant engineering contexts, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). X-Forge was created to change that. Research conducted as part of X-Forge aims to explore the development and potential commercialization of XaaS services for engineering applications and address lingering reservations. X-Forge comprises four showcase projects which examine different business cases for XaaS services. In each of the four projects, the participating companies developed processes in a way that made it possible to break them down into separate services which formed XaaS offerings. Fraunhofer IPA has described the process in detail on its website. Taken as a whole, the projects are intended to offer insights that can also be applied to other industries and enable fully XaaS-based models consisting of end-to-end production processes. The four showcase projects are Smart Factory as a Service, Productivity as a Service, Wood Working as a Service, and Product Life Cycle Enrichment as a Service (PLCEaaS), the last of which we participated in together with other companies.

PLCEaaS: Driving value creation with data

Participants in the X-Forge subproject PLCEaaS formed a temporary research alliance including  WITTENSTEIN SE, a specialist for mechatronic drivetrain technology with a focus on gearboxes, TruPhysics GmbH, a software development firm that makes simulation software for industrial and service robots, Fraunhofer IPA, and us, Ascon Systems, a technology company specializing in digital twins.

Using processes and data from WITTENSTEIN, we explored how expanding the digitalization of products and manufacturing processes can help ensure success in markets that are increasingly characterized by global competition. We analyzed the contribution of data and technologies to the product life cycle as well as possibilities for adding digital services to a company’s portfolio to enhance its positioning and achieve greater differentiation.

Die sechs Dienste des X-Forge-Forschungsprojektes PLCEaaS © Ascon Systems1
The six services of the X-Forge PLCEaaS research project

The product life cycle of a gearbox

The research project used data from WITTENSTEIN SE derived from the real-world product life cycle of a gearbox. This operating data came from product development, manufacturing, and quality control at WITTENSTEIN SE as well as data generated during installation of the product by an industrial machine manufacturer and the subsequent production data from an operator of the machine. We first acquired and analyzed the data. Then we modeled it on the demonstrator using both digital twins and standard connectors (in the OPC UA project) to acquire signals from all the sensors. Finally, we provided the data as microservices. This enabled acquisition of all sensor signals within their respective contexts stored inside a digital repository of the lifecycle, which is then available for use by an analytics toolkit for efficient evaluation.

Testing the future

The results of the PCLEaaS initiative offer analytical insights into data quality, data quantity, and the status of contextual information. These insights are crucial for analyzing causal relationships across the entire product life cycle. The PLCEaaS project ran for two years, making it possible to implement various approaches to data analysis and evaluation for maximizing efficiency gains in production. All the participants of X-Forge stand to profit from the results. Businesses in other industries can also use the approach to model, validate, and optimize business models and determine their feasibility for future use. The X-Forge project is ongoing. Additional information is available at the
Allianz Industrie 4.0 Baden-Württemberg website, at X-Forge on Linkedin, and on the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA website.

*XaaS stands for Everything-as-a-Service. That includes IT services as well as products such as software, hardware, and infrastructure. Basically anything a vendor chooses to rent out or offer as a subscription instead of selling it for a one-time fee. This model gives customers more flexibility and allows them to scale as needed.

Susanne Weller

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