Industry 4.0: manufacturing can also be Simply Clever

Industry 4.0: manufacturing can also be Simply Clever

ŠKODA’s Simply Clever solutions are not just found in the cars themselves – the philosophy is also applied to their production. New technologies referred to as Industry 4.0 is the latest trend.

28. 10. 2020 Škoda World INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY

An umbrella stored inside the door, an ice scraper or a washer fluid tank with an integrated funnel – these are some of the famous Simply Clever features in ŠKODA cars. But Simply Clever is not limited to the finished products. The factories that produce ŠKODA cars make use of a wide range of clever solutions, some of them unexpectedly simple. These smart solutions come under the concept of Industry 4.0.

The term Industry 4.0 is linked to large-scale automation and robotization of manufacturing, but it also covers the use of all kinds of data that make production simpler, faster and more efficient. Besides modern robots, the term encompasses lots of less obvious solutions that all have one thing in common: they are simple, but their adoption was only made possible by the digital technologies of recent years and the growth of artificial intelligence, or AI. Here are a few examples of the Simply Clever solutions ŠKODA uses.

What’s that noise?

Sound analysis is a similar discipline to image analysis, just a little simpler. “Every machine emits characteristic sounds that can be studied by artificial intelligence. When the monitoring detects an unexpected new sound, it informs the user that something is up,” says Milan Dědek, an expert in the use of AI in predictive maintenance. This makes it possible to detect possible faults before they do any damage: when ball bearings start to jam or cogs, straps, chains or other components become worn out, the machine’s sound changes slightly. A human can’t hear it, but AI can.

“Every machine emits characteristic sounds that can be analysed by artificial intelligence. So when the monitoring picks up an unexpected new sound, it informs the user.”

Milan_DedekMilan Dědek

Engines that sound healthy

Sound analysis has even found its way from the factory floor onto the front line. The ŠKODA AUTO After Sales department and ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab are trialling a new smartphone app: “Sound Analyser”. The app uses artificial intelligence (AI) and helps to quickly and accurately identify the need for any servicing. The program records noises made by the respective vehicle whilst it is running and compares them with stored sound patterns. The technology can recognise ten specimen samples with an accuracy of over 90 per cent. If something’s not right, the app identifies what the discrepancies are caused by and how they can be repaired. That makes car servicing faster and more efficient. Stanislav Pekař, head of ŠKODA After Sales, adds: “Sound Analyzer is a great illustration of the opportunities digitalisation offers ŠKODA in After Sales and elsewhere. In future we will make use of AI technologies to offer customers even more personalised services and enhance their experience.”

A QR code for every engine

Sometimes smart solutions do nothing more than make it possible to reliably identify a product. In the foundry where engine blocks are made, each one is marked with a “datamatrix code”, the equivalent of the familiar QR code. The mark is made using a special needle. The advantage of the datamatrix code is that it is resistant to heat, chemicals and abrasion. “The unique code on every product makes it possible to check that it is in the right place at the right time at every stage of production, which prevents mix-ups of similar parts. At the same time, the product’s movements are fully traceable if any errors need to be resolved,” Milan Dědek explains.

Smart parking

The FabLab office in the heart of Mladá Boleslav is one of the incubators of Industry 4.0 ideas. Here they are testing their own camera system that identifies vacant parking places. “It's a kind of a foundation for learning about work with AI on affordable hardware. We want to leverage our experiences to ensure smoother movement of lorries arriving at the factory site – lorries often have to contend with a full parking lot,” says Ondřej Růžička from FabLab. “What we learn here can be applied in other places. The first project is underway in production, where we’ll monitor the condition of car body conveyor pendants. That makes it easier to plan servicing work, which saves a lot of money,” his colleague Milan Dědek adds.

Keep the conveyor running

Another clever AI-based idea developed in FabLab is monitoring the condition of bearings in skid conveyors. These are big panels that carry car bodies in part of the production line. “We use thermal cameras to monitor the temperature of the conveyor’s ball bearings, which can jam.” This allows us to preventively replace bearings nearing the end of their lifespan,” Růžička explains. The system also draws on data from the electric motors that power the skids. Put simply, when a bearing starts to chafe, the electric motor also runs less smoothly, so the impending bearing’s problem is verified from two sources.

“We use thermal cameras to monitor the temperature of the conveyor’s ball bearings, which can jam.”

Ondřej Růžička

How to load a container

Modern solutions are put to use at the CKD centre in Mladá Boleslav, where components used to make ŠKODA cars abroad are loaded into containers. The OPTIKON app, which was jointly developed by ŠKODA AUTO Logistics, ŠKODA AUTO DigiLab and ŠKODA IT, helps to master this challenge using AI. The program calculates how the different pallets must be loaded in order to make maximum use of each container’s capacity. Increasing container capacity use from 71 to 72 m3 per year saves around 240 containers and 127 tonnes of CO2 emissions from shipping.

Digital twin

Another efficiency lesson was recently put to the test in Vrchlabí. A new workplace was integrated into the production without stoppages. That was made possible by “digital twin” technology, where a new robot station was first tested fully in the virtual environment. “Thanks to digital twin technology, we could get a detailed virtual image of the production line, simulate its processes and expand the production line on the fly,” explains Christian Bleiel, head of components production, adding that the production line was entirely fine-tuned in the virtual environment before the real environment was changed accordingly.

Robot carts with eyes in the back of their head

Factories are busy places: besides the production lines themselves, there are lots of people and various conveyors and carts in constant motion. Automated robot carts now carry material to the production lines automatically, without requiring an operator, in a number of ŠKODA plants. But they don’t bump into people. CEIT carts have a special scanner that helps them navigate through spaces. They don’t need the complicated track guidance system that was used in the past. They have a map of the space inside their “brains”. “The robotic carts communicate with the various sections of the factory and immediately adapt to the current situation. They bring material to the production line precisely when it’s needed,” says Roman Šuma from Internal Logistics. OMRON autonomous mobile robots have been used in the Vrchlabí plant for several years. They learn a route during one controlled run, and then they are able to avoid unexpected obstacles on the route automatically. They learn and alter the route to reach their destination as soon as possible.”