Beyond traditional automation: Audi’s smart factory and the role of data analytics
Automobile manufacturer Audi AG is revolutionizing its production processes through the implementation of a smart factory.
Audi’s approach involves virtualization, automation and advanced networking solutions to enhance efficiency, overcome maintenance challenges and improve production outcomes. By leveraging hyper-converged infrastructure, addressing latency constraints and integrating information technology security measures, the company aims to create a future-proof factory that combines the power of algorithms and human expertise.
“We want to go down this smart factory route,” said Henning Loeser (pictured), the head of the Audi Production Lab. “At some point, we figured out we need to change something. What do we need to change and why? That’s where the P-Lab comes into play.”
Loeser spoke with theCUBE industry analysts John Furrier and Dave Vellante at Cisco Live, during an exclusive broadcast on theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio. They discussed Loeser’s vision and Audi’s journey toward a smarter, more technologically advanced manufacturing environment.
The need for change in automation
In the quest for greater efficiency and better production methods, Audi realized the limitations of traditional automation. The old approach involved adding more sensors and hardware to automation cells, leading to maintenance challenges, according to Loeser. This realization prompted Audi to explore new possibilities and think outside the box.
To overcome the limitations of the traditional automation setup, Audi turned to hyperconverged infrastructure and sought a solution that could handle the latency requirements of its production processes. As a part of this move, Audi collaborated with Cisco Systems Inc. to address the networking needs of its vision.
“You talk about smart factory, you talk about algorithms that get updated, having to deploy a new firmware if you think of all the IT security issues and so on,” Loeser said. “We started to look outside the box … we talked to the IT folks, to data center folks. They introduced us to the concepts of hyperconverged infrastructure, CI/CD pipelines and all of that.”
Transitioning from physical to virtual PLCs
One of Audi’s goals is to replace the hardware-based programmable logic controllers with virtual PLCs running on hyperconverged infrastructure. Safety certifications and regulations surrounding physical PLCs are complex, emphasizing the advantages of virtualization, according to Loeser.
“We want a virtual PLC that is certified, runs on a hyperconverged infrastructure; and the network has to provide what we need,” Loeser added.
With the integration of IT and operational technology, security becomes a critical concern. The adoption of hyperconverged infrastructure and advanced networking solutions enables micro-segmentation in the network. This allows for threat detection and remediation using the same IT security tools deployed in data centers and office infrastructures, strengthening Audi’s overall security posture, according to Loeser.
Audi recognizes the potential of data analytics in improving production outcomes and quality control, including the use of algorithms rather than strictly relying on artificial intelligence. By leveraging algorithms, Audi aims to enhance efficiency, gain insights into processes and continuously improve quality control.
“If it is an AI algorithm I need, I’ll use an AI algorithm. Most of the time, it’s probably just a very simple algorithm,” Loeser added.
Here’s the complete video interview, part of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of Cisco Live:
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