Karlsruhe Research Factory: rapid industrialization of production processes
The rapid transfer of theoretical knowledge into profitable industrial applications and services: with this guiding principle, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are conducting joint research in the Karlsruhe Research Factory at the KIT East Campus. The digitalization of production and the possibilities of artificial intelligence are the focus of the research work, which is based on close cooperation with industrial partners. The partners opened the new development and demonstration center today (March 28, 2022) together with Baden-Württemberg's Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, Science Minister Theresia Bauer, and Economics Minister Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, and around 400 representatives from politics, science, and industry.
(For more photos of the event for editorial use, please refer to this photo album provided by KIT.)
In the Karlsruhe Research Factory, the wbk Institute for Production Technology of KIT, the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT pursue the common goal of rapidly industrializing production processes - from knowledge-oriented basic research to practical optimization and industrialization in collaborative research projects, to transfer research results into commercial use in Baden-Württemberg.
Head of state government emphasizes relevance for Baden-Württemberg's economy
“The terrible war in Ukraine has shown us how quickly requirements for production processes can change. But even without such extreme events, a great deal of flexibility is required from companies. For example, when component numbers fluctuate. When customers don't want something run-of-the-mill, but rather a custom-made product. Or when the aim isn’t just to build better and better cars - but rather to create a completely new mobility experience," says State Governor Kretschmann. "To meet these challenges, companies need a laboratory where excellent research meets operational practice, and where new technologies are developed and tested and quickly reach production maturity. In three important sectors for the future of Baden-Würrtemberg - electromobility, lightweight construction and Industry 4.0. - the Karlsruhe Research Factory will fulfill this role.”
Knowledge transfer, and the position of the Research Factory in the research policy context
“As a protected space for collaborations between science and industry, research factories provide an excellent environment for testing new approaches and bringing them directly into application. The Karlsruhe Research Factory will be a source of ideas and innovations that not only strengthen Baden-Württemberg as a research location, but also advance the participating companies. Baden-Württemberg will also be even more visible internationally as a driving force for development,” said Theresia Bauer, Baden-Württemberg's Minister of Science, Research and the Arts, during a roundtable discussion between representatives from science and politics. This is also crucial for transformations in mobility and digitalization in Baden-Württemberg: “In the research factory, companies and researchers will work together on key topics for the future competitiveness of our economy. The factory thus strengthens the unique industrial ecosystem in Baden-Württemberg, helping to successfully meet the challenges of transformation. Our goal is to ensure that Baden-Württemberg remains a leading site of industrial innovation and production in the future,” says Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, Baden-Württemberg's Minister of Economic Affairs, Labor and Tourism.
Science and industry: working together for success
Professor Holger Hanselka, President of KIT, emphasized that the close cooperation between science and industry is crucial in this context: “The Karlsruhe Research Factory is a blueprint for shared success. Through close cooperation with industry, we are merging the most promising approaches into innovative solutions for manufacturing companies and mechanical and plant engineering.”
In this context, scientists see the digitalization of production and the potential of artificial intelligence as important building blocks for success. “Germany's economic success and prosperity are based to a considerable extent on supplying the world markets with innovative products and technologies. With the Karlsruhe Research Factory for AI-integrated Production, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT are making an important contribution to consolidating the leading position of Germany as an industrial location. Here, the latest findings in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning are combined with classical engineering sciences to explore the future topic of ‘intelligent production’ in a practical way,” says Professor Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.
Concrete objectives and approaches of the Karlsruhe Research Factory
“The world in which we live and work is not stable, but volatile. Agile, versatile production concepts and the rapid enablement of processes have the potential to maintain value creation in Baden-Württemberg in the long term,” says Professor Jürgen Fleischer, Head of the wbk Institute for Production Technology at KIT, during a keynote lecture. Professor Jürgen Beyerer, Director of Fraunhofer IOSB, emphasizes: “By temporarily adding instrumentation with sensors and actuators, as well as machine learning, we can learn about processes more quickly, control them effectively, make them productive at an accelerated rate, and optimize them, even if we don't understand all the influences and correlations at first.” Professor Frank Henning, Director of Fraunhofer ICT, adds: “Lightweighting concepts enable materials to be used efficiently and help achieve climate and sustainability goals - in both stationary and mobile applications, such as electromobility.”
Electromobility, lightweight construction and Industry 4.0
During tours, the State Governor and the ministers as well as the other participants were able to gain their own impression of current projects in the research fields of electromobility, lightweight construction and Industry 4.0 as well as the central production-related challenges for companies: shorter product life cycles, individualized products and the increasing use of new technologies. In the context of electromobility, research is being conducted into highly efficient electric traction motors, high-performance batteries with variable cell formats and the cost-effective production of fuel cells. In the field of lightweight manufacturing, additive manufacturing processes, the resource-efficient use of materials and the production of hydrogen tanks are the focus of current research work. In the research field Industry 4.0, the potential of continuous digital process chains and artificial intelligence is being researched across multiple domains, alongside concrete technical solutions such as the concept of value stream kinematics that allow this potential to be implemented in a real production environment.
According to the current status, the total construction costs of the project, which is efficiently managed by the planning and construction departments of KIT and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, are expected to reach approximately 17 million euros (net). KIT was allocated a gross construction budget of around 9.6 million euros by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts for the construction of its part of the building and its initial equipment, which is expected to fall short of this amount. A joint net construction budget of 8.5 million euros was made available by the federal and state governments for the construction of the sub-building for the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Of this, 3.5 million euros come from the European Union's European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and 2.5 million euros each are provided by the federal government and Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Economics, Labor and Tourism. An additional 1.15 million euros are available for equipment for the Fraunhofer institutes, half of which is provided by the federal government and half by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economics, Labor and Tourism. The state also provided the land for the construction project.