SICK, Inc., Minneapolis, opened what is said to be the first Industry 4.0-ready digital plant in Freiburg, Germany.

The 4.0 NOW Factory features autonomous digital production and control processes, and provides a peak into the production of the the future with conceptual stages.

The 4.0 NOW Factory boasts robots and employees working side-by-side to produce SICK sensors with 12 fully-automated production technology modules, four manual workstations and a hybrid workstation.

The cellular organization of the production process allows the modular usage sequence to vary as required. Material is supplied by means of automated guided carts (AGCs). All the workflows are managed by a high-performance software system developed in-house by SICK. This contains all information relating to each respective order, such as the product properties, quantity and details on which production steps are required for each module. The system sends the information to the machines and receives constant feedback in return. All of the contributing elements –the sensors, machines and people –are organized remotely, networked and are in constant communication with each other.

Five product families are currently in production in the 4.0 NOW Factory, with the plan to increase to 12. And, the scope is available to cover more than 500,000 product variants. What’s more, the production processes can accommodate an unlimited variety of options, which allows a whole host of diverse customer requirements to be taken into consideration. The factory is even capable of producing small quantities on demand.

“We looked well into the future on this one. In fact, our plants are capable of manufacturing products that we haven’t even come up with yet,” says Bernhard Müller, Industry 4.0 manager. “With every day that goes by, we are collecting valuable knowledge when it comes to developing and improving this type of production even further. We only install our own sensors and sensor systems in our plants. They have to be able to demonstrate what they are capable of here under real conditions. This provides us with important insights into how they work, shows us where we can still make improvements and provides us with inspiration for new developments.”