Artificial Intelligence How self-learning automation makes your production more intelligent
At the Mindelheim-based company BBG, an end-to-end line for finishing glass with polyurethane (PUR) is being set up to demonstrate and test the results of a research project. The project “EKI — Engineering for AI-based Automation in Production Environments” is intended to pave the way for the intelligent adaptation of production systems to changing requirements and environmental conditions, for example in order to manufacture new variants of a product.
The system partner for the plastics processing industry BBG, is taking part in a research project to develop production automation based on artificial intelligence (AI). In total, the project partners have defined five specific use cases for which the research results will be implemented in everyday industrial practice and validated with the help of BBG's fully automated production line. Self-learning processes are to be developed for primer application during production preparation and trimming of the parting plane and sprue surface during finishing. Cloud-based formulation management, autonomous detection of the need for preventive maintenance and optimisation of resource consumption via an energy management system are further research priorities. The various tasks are scientifically supported in individual theses at the Helmut Schmidt University. The project is initially scheduled to run until 31 August 2024.
The process at BBG includes various automation modules for preparing encapsulation processes, such as component priming and flash-off. A PUR encapsulation station, consisting of a metering machine, a mould carrier system and an encapsulation mould with automated release agent application complements the line. The feeding of inserts and the removal of finished components are also handled automatically. At the end of the process chain, there are further automation modules equipped with AI-based algorithms for finishing and quality control.
The joint project is familiar territory for BBG: As early as 2020, the company presented intelligent tools for use in industry 4.0 applications and in the smart factory environment. For the company, the use of AI is the next logical step in the further development of their own product range.
Industrial manufacturers are under pressure
The background to the research project is the increasing pressure on manufacturers. The demand for new products with a wide range of variants is contributing to this circumstances, as are demands for increased productivity, resource conservation and cost reductions. So far, the focus was mainly on individual aspects such as line modularisation, intuitive software, the improvement of mechatronic components and parameter optimisation.
The EKI research project is looking for a comprehensive solution. This is because AI and, above all, machine learning are currently giving rise to completely new automation approaches, especially for adaptive, i.e. variable, systems. These allow production processes to be created automatically and adapted to new requirements – instead of the previous manual conversion and adjustment work.
The project partners are examining how such software components can be combined into end-to-end solutions and used in as many industrial applications as possible. The creation of AI/ML algorithms therefore also contributes to testing their usability in as many machine environments as possible. Thus, a new engineering approach with open interfaces is being developed for the project, which enables the integration of ML and AI software components into different manufacturing processes. One core idea is assistance functions to help plant manufacturers quickly select, adapt and integrate AI-based automation systems.
This enables BBG to offer their customers customised, flexible and highly productive solutions.
BBG’s customers are active around the globe
BBG is an international system partner for the plastics processing industry with its own tool, machine and plant construction. In addition to end-to-end production lines, the company designs, develops and manufactures moulds for processing polyurethane (PUR), PVC, TPE and other elastomers, as well as a wide range of composite materials. This includes production processes such as PUR-CSM (PUR Composite Spray Molding), LFI (Long Fiber Injection), RTM (Resin Transfer Moulding), SMC (Sheet Molding Compound) or GMT (Glass Mat reinforced Thermoplastics), which are selected depending on the desired qualities of the finished products. The company also focuses on solutions for lightweight construction, the processing of composites and the production of fiber composite components in a large number of industries. Since 2020, the company has also been developing and building packaging machines for pharmaceutical products and food supplements.