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Intelligent manufacturing control systems for higher quality products

Most conventional manufacturing control systems exhibit a weak response to changes due to their rigid and centralised control structures. An EU initiative developed technologies for an adaptive and self-learning factory production line with in-built quality control, which, in turn, enable the production of higher quality and customized products.

Industrial Technologies

As competition increases, manufacturers must ensure maximum efficiency and quality of their products if they are to compete in the global market place. The EU-funded GRACE (Integration of process and quality control using multi-agent technology) project set out to develop innovative technologies to introduce a self-optimising production line. Focusing on the production of home appliances, specifically washing machines, project partners created a collaborative multi-agent system (MAS) architecture for decentralised production systems. A novel methodology was developed that considers product quality within manufacturing and manufacturing systems engineering. To enable the evaluation of production procedures, they analysed production processes, process control and process control assessments. The GRACE team developed new quality control and measurement systems for production processes. Adaptable controllers were also designed that demonstrate how process control at the local or global level can enhance the individual tuning of a product. They act as control agents at each factory station. Furthermore, an adaptable on-board controller was realized that demonstrates how individual tuning of a product can enhance its performance and therefore improve production quality. The final year was devoted to the implementation, integration and validation of the MAS prototype. Several field tests were conducted to validate the GRACE system. A final demonstration was held in real time on the production line of a washing machine factory. Results showed several innovative capabilities. These include the addition, removal or change of components without needing to stop, reprogramme and reinitialise other components, seamless distribution in large-scale systems, robustness, scalability and smooth technology migration. GRACE introduced a manufacturing engineering solution that improves the quality control and energy efficiency of products while optimising production lines and reducing down time.

Keywords

Manufacturing control systems, production line, quality control, washing machines, multi-agent system

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