Skill and Scale Up: Simulation

Simulations as a forecasting method in the "digital factory"

"Digital factory" is the generic term for a comprehensive network of digital models, methods, and tools that are brought together by an end-to-end data management system. This also includes simulations or other three-dimensional visualizations of the production environment. The eleventh blog article in our information campaign "Skill & Scale up" explains how digital factory planning methods are technically implemented and what functions simulations can fulfill in this context.

What does a digital factory consist of?

A distinction is made between two areas in the "digital factory": Digital production planning and digital factory planning. Digital product and production development aims to improve the production process through computer-aided conversion of product data into process data. The better the errors can be traced, the more rejects can be avoided. This leads to minimized costs and optimized quality. A good example is machine learning, as we presented in our last blog article, in which large amounts of process data are used to improve production.

The second area of the digital factory, digital factory planning, involves the use of digital technologies to plan the factory. One example of this is Building Information Modeling (BIM), an interdisciplinary method that takes people, processes, and tools into account in overall planning. Unlike a simple 3D visualization, a BIM model is 'intelligent' and contains additional information-rich data about various building elements and their relationships to one another, such as the thermal permeability of the wall and maintenance routes for work on the building. It is a static, digital representation of a planning status of the factory and, with integrated data and 3D visualization, can serve as input for digital production planning, training and game development. Even if it cannot be considered a simulation in the strict sense, it offers a comprehensive digital representation to be used as a basis for a simulation.

Relevant participants in a simulation study
Procedure for conducting simulations

What is a simulation in digital factory planning?

As replicas of real systems with dynamic processes, they are used to predict the processes of a factory in different situations, based on which well-founded decisions can be made. In a broader sense, simulation refers to the preparation, execution, and evaluation of specific experiments using a simulation model. They are used in digital factory planning to visualize a wide variety of units, factors, and flows, for example, factory layouts, material flows, or work processes. It makes sense to use them as early as possible in the factory planning process, as they offer immense savings potential. While static simulations are based on a specific point in time, dynamic simulations are based on time-dependent changes.

The simulation process is as follows: First, a real, complex, or largely unknown system is observed and analyzed according to its influencing factors. Then the system is reproduced - this can be done both analogously in a model and digitally. Subsequently, transferable findings are recorded for reality.

Fields of application for simulations in battery cell production

In the battery production process, some critical process steps particularly benefit from simulation. For example, the consistency of the slurry paste that is applied to the foil in electrode production is crucial to the quality of the cell and the amount of waste in production. Here, the simulation can help to understand the influence of these forces on the particles by adjusting the pressure and speed and thus determining the mixing quality of the slurry. Elsewhere, a physical simulation of the dehumidification systems of clean and dry rooms can enable predictions to be made that can be used to adjust energy requirements depending on usage.

Up to now, simulations have mainly been used for individual fields of application and are therefore not networked within a factory from the outset. As a result, the knowledge gained and the results are not automatically passed on. The transfer is hardly possible automatically due to different user interfaces, data formats, and knowledge bases. Fraunhofer FFB is therefore working with its partners on a platform on which simulation results and knowledge can be exchanged in a standardized way.

Standardization: currently the biggest challenge for digitalization 

Standardization is a much more complex challenge in the digitalization of factories than different types of charging plugs were in the early days of the cell phone. Back then, however, this led to a similar incompatibility and unnecessary electronic waste as different system languages contribute to unusable data today. It is therefore a key objective in the development of the digital factory to establish uniform standards for digital processes and technologies.