In the digitalised factory of the future, in which humans, robots, autonomous logistic vehicles and machines coexist and interact with each other, having an accurate knowledge of production environments will be instrumental to improve the overall efficiency and the safety of the workers.
With that in mind EIT Digital, the leading European open innovation organisation, is launching a new Innovation Activity "The Virtual Factory Floor" (VFF) to create virtual layouts of factories with the aim of providing 3D maps which can be updated in real-time.
From the technical point of view the mathematical methods for automatic 3D map generation from multiple video sources or depth cameras are well known, but there are still many challenges to make these methods work reliably in real life environments.
Not to mention the fact that, in the dynamic environments typical of the digitalized factories of the future, these maps will need to be updated automatically and frequently (at least once every day) and the data generated will need to be intuitive, comprehensive and equally suitable for machines, human workers and management.
Having up-to-date virtual versions of production environments might prove especially useful when new production lines are designed or when old production environments are updated.
In this context, the Virtual Factory Floor is designed to be the central service providing real-time information to all the agents in the factory for greater flexibility as well as improved safety.
There is great potential for the proposed technology and two application areas have already been selected as the Innovation Activity’s primary focus:
- Using up-to-date 3D reconstructions of the factory floor when updating production lines or when creating new production lines.
- Automatically recognising changes in the environment. This can be used for updating navigation routes for robots, or even for updating plant/process simulation models.
"We think that now is the right time for this innovation. The resolution and speed of vision sensors is increasing while their prices go down. Cloud computing is becoming widely available as a service allowing computationally intensive tasks and fusion of visual and analytical data. The use of mobile logistic vehicles for intra-factory logistics has also increased drastically in last few years enabling the automatic collection of visual data", explains Ali Muhammad, VTT and EIT Digital Activity Lead for VFF.
The innovation activity is carried out in co-operation between VTT, (Technical Research Centre of Finland), and DFKI, (Deutsches Forschungszentrum fur Kuenstliche Intelligenz Gmbh). CRF, (Centro Ricerche Fiat Scpa), is also a project partner, and will give vital customer insight for the project. By involving customers in the discussion from the start, the solutions created and their market appeal can be tested and validated.