Bosch, research partners developing new modular manufacturing system

A research consortium led by Bosch is developing a novel industrial manufacturing concept. The nine partners on the ReCaM project aim to create a highly versatile manufacturing system. Such systems are needed because production times in modern manufacturing are becoming ever shorter.

In addition, demand for customized products is increasing, and the number of variants with it. The project partners have set themselves ambitious goals.

“We want to make manufacturing more efficient and more profitable. The aim is to cut the time it takes to set up a running system by 30 percent,” says the project manager Sebastian Schröck, who works in research and advance engineering at Bosch.

Schröck, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering, started working on the project with the various partners in November 2015, and will continue until October 2018. In the future, independent modules are to assume specific tasks within a manufacturing chain – pressing, drilling, or assembly, for example. Each module contains the tool or tools necessary for its task, plus the ability to configure itself and to coordinate all manufacturing processes with its neighboring modules. These manufacturing modules are put together to create a customized, versatile manufacturing system.

Plug and produce modules for the smart factory

At present, production lines are usually still designed for just one product and for a particular batch size of that product. However, products are becoming ever more personalized, and batch sizes increasingly variable, right down to batch size one. Consequently, production lines have to be adjusted more and more often, a process that costs time, increases the risk of errors, and results in downtime. The research project envisions using “plug and produce” modules as a solution. The idea behind it is similar to when computers can independently recognize keyboards or printers through plug and play applications. In order to adjust production, workers will simply add existing modules or remove those that aren’t needed.

Putting manufacturing systems to the test

The ReCaM team aims to prove that such connected and adaptable manufacturing systems truly work and prove themselves in practical application. To do so, all nine partners in the research consortium are contributing their various areas of expertise to find a solution together: the university institutes are developing the standards, mechanical engineers are constructing the modules, and the manufacturing companies such as Bosch are testing the concepts in practice.

The ReCaM project is funded by the European Union to the tune of 5.3 million euros as part of its “Horizon 2020” research and innovation program (grant agreement # 680759). In full, ReCaM stands for “rapid reconfiguration of flexible production systems through capability-based adaptation, auto-configuration, and integrated tools for production planning.” By driving forward the smart factory, the objective is to give Europe an edge over its global competitors.