Shanghai — For German carmaker Volkswagen AG, one of the visions for Industry 4.0 includes mobile machinery, with robots cruising around factories and deciding on their own what they'll do next.
A senior VW executive involved in implementing Industry 4.0, the name for the integration of big data with traditional manufacturing, told a conference at Chinaplas in Shanghai in April that the carmaker is looking at when robots will be mobile and capable of acting more independently.
“What we are discussing in the moment is robot production, and how far away is it that robots are not fixed,” said Fabian Fischer, head of internal processing in VW's Group Research unit for Materials and Manufacturing.
“So if you have a robot on wheels and electricity on board, and the robot is not fixed, and the robot can decide now I make this, and afterward I drive to make this, and the robot can decide what he has to do,” he said.
Fischer told the conference it was “just an idea,” but it was also the first example he offered in response to the first question at the conference, about what VW wants from its machinery suppliers to help implement 4.0.
Fischer's wide-ranging presentation offered a glimpse into how one of the world's biggest carmakers sees Industry 4.0 changing how it makes vehicles.
The Chinaplas conference was sponsored by Germany's machinery trade association, VDMA, along with Chinaplas organizer, Hong Kong-based Adsale Exhibition Services Ltd.
Serious 4.0 work for VW only began in 2013, Fischer said, but it's progressing quickly. The company has finished a prototype car where each part has RFID chips or similar technology for traceability, he said.
“We have today, one month ago, we have a prototype car that … has in every part information like RFID chips or numbers we can scan,” he said. “The whole car comes to the garage and it has all the information about parts, where it comes from, what happens, what is inside.”