At this week’s International Fluid Power (IFK) conference, Prof. Jürgen Weber, head of the Institute of Mechatronic Engineering at Technical University Dresden, offered an ambitious and optimistic view of the industry’s future, along with the challenges. In his keynote presentation, “Digital Mobile Machines — From Cloud to Earth,” he predicts what lies ahead for mobile hydraulics and off-road technology.
The term Industry 4.0 describes the transition from a classic value-added chain to dynamic value-added networks, said Weber. It is driven by four main design principles: interconnection of machines and humans; information transparency; technical assistance to support humans; and decentralized decisions. This approach and its connected technologies, like IoT and cloud computing, enhance industrial production through added flexibility, growing self-organization and interlocking with logistics and planning processes.
Construction processes and the associated logistics are fundamentally different from industrial goods production, he said. In a complex and constantly changing environment, many individual contractors rely on diverse and inhomogeneous technologies in a collaborative way. The unique character of construction projects, the massive fragmentation of the industry and lack of standardized interfaces for the documentation and coordination of construction processes mean that there is a huge untapped potential for efficiency and quality gains.
That’s changing, explained Weber. Powerful wireless communication based on 5G enables for the first time the consistent, digital mapping of all construction processes and participants due to massive availability of real-time information. At the same time, 5G can act as an anchor for common standards — a prerequisite and basis for future automation systems which will enable humans to act efficiently in a highly digital, self-organizing environment.
Raising the efficiency of construction processes means increasing integration of planning and process data, and the trend towards electrohydraulic control systems open up the potential for innovative assistance and automation solutions. OEMs and suppliers are now confronted with technological challenges, such as the development and adaptation of algorithms for mobile robotics and drive systems.
Against this background, the so-called “digital twin” is of central importance. “From micro to macro scale, we have to consider digital twins in all levels of components and systems, starting from, let’s say, the fluid and it’s properties, up to the process of construction as a whole,” said Weber. “Digital twins should be understood as a digital representation of things from the real world, both physical objects and non-physical things like services and use cases.”
Twins must be able to represent different types of information in a uniform format, not just data, but also learning algorithms, specialized simulation models and so on, he continued. Depending on operating conditions like temperature, pressure or load conditions, we can use the digital twin for optimization, detection of failures, or for safety issues. Twins would be able to describe and enrich or predict asset behavior to react in time, for example, for maintenance. And common interfaces would permit a comprehensive exchange of information between different twins.
When we consider the digital twin of components like pumps, we need information such as deformation according to the load conditions, to be able to predict operating life. But we also have to consider assets inside the pump, like the fluid and its properties based on operating conditions, as well as bearings or control solenoids. And beyond services like condition monitoring for the pump itself, it’s also interesting to predict contamination in the fluid exiting the pump, or to generate efficiency maps that give us an idea of the overall efficiency and fuel consumption for a machine.
For subsystems and drives, we can consider issues like control parameter optimization for feed-forward or feedback control systems, and look at additional issue like parameter identification and seamless plug-and-run commissioning.
At the equipment level, specific machine characteristics with regard to kinematics, loads, wear condition, thermal budget, degree of automation, and suitability for attachment are represented in the digital twin of mobile machinery, and enable transparency and decision possibilities for necessary maintenance and repair cycles as well as for expected efficiency and quality.
Here we could go a little bit deeper inside this digital twin implementation. For example, controllers with a certain computer power can be directly installed in a machine, while the machine cloud could manage the information, with the capability of the machine communicating with other machines and with the construction site-management system. And we have commissioning aspects inside the machine drive itself and predictive condition-based maintenance for components like pumps and motors, and so there are a lot of different levels of this twin aspect.
Finally there is the site itself, and the question of tracking and tracing the many machines and materials. A construction project represented as a digital twin allows simulation-based optimization of the process sequence. By mirroring the construction progress, the digital twin leads to transparency regarding adherence to schedules as well as in quality management and in case of unplanned process changes, it enables the evaluation of suitable, alternative construction process and workflow scenarios. The digital twin of the construction project is also a prerequisite for efficient interactions of all involved construction site actors, explained Weber.
His group is working with a large consortium on a huge project on these various aspects. One major topic involves automated networked machines, where the goal is to achieve a certain degree of automation. “I am not convinced that we should go immediately to autonomous machines. We should use our human sensitivity to see and observe our processes, our surrounding environment, and use the capability of the operators to react in special situations. I think we can also say that the operator will be more and more a machine coordinator, not only for the machine he is sitting on, also for other ones nearby. So my point is to help the operators with assistance systems to use a machine that’s very efficient and very productive. This should be our goal,” he said.
The vision could be described as a fully digitized, highly automated, highly customized construction site, said Weber. By means of holistic simulation and massive networking and communication we look to optimize today’s and future construction machinery and construction processes and, in the end, realize substantial gains in efficiency and productivity.