Method for the development of Software-Defined Manufacturing equipment
Customer demands force manufacturing companies to offer individualised products to remain competitive. This results in a demand for flexibility and adaptability in product development and production, which causes a rise in complexity. Simultaneously, manufacturers strive to further automatise production and assembly lines to increase cost efficiency and optimise output. This leads to a conflict of interest between two different approaches, ‘streamlined and cost-efficient’ or ‘individualised and costly’. Software-Defined Manufacturing (SDM) is a new approach that seeks to reconcile these diametrical goals by increasing the adaptability of automated manufacturing. This is achieved by virtualising key functionalities of production machines, which permit the configuration of system functionality via software. With current production equipment, this is difficult, because it was designed for a specific process and because there is no meaningful separation between the executing physical part of the machine and the controlling software. This article presents a new method for the development of SDM-ready production machines and processes. The application of the method on a production use-case demonstrates its usefulness in the improvement of existing production facilities and processes. It further addresses the wider trend of Software-Defined Anything (SDx) and outlines the role SDM could play on the pathway towards autonomous manufacturing.