The aim of the research project "VITAMINE_5G – Virtual reality environment for Additive Manufacturing enabled by 5G" is to make production safer, more transparent and easier to control. To this end, we are setting up a digital virtual reality environment in which machine operators can view a realistic process image. The additive manufacturing process "laser cladding with wire", or LMD-w for short, was chosen as an example application.
Until now, machine users have had a hard time monitoring what happens inside the machine during LMD-w. Due to the laser radiation and harmful fume and particle emissions, strict safety measures are necessary, such as safety walls with very small, dark-tinted windows.
The consequence of these safety measures is that the machine users can only monitor the production process with great difficulty; furthermore, it is impossible to intervene in the running process. Thus, if a manufacturing error occurs, it can only be identified retrospectively. This, in turn, makes it difficult to analyze why and where exactly the error occurred and how it can be prevented in the future. As a result, the reject rate for components manufactured using LMD-w is quite high, which makes the technology unattractive for industrial practice despite its numerous advantages.
The project team will first define the required sensor technology and integrate it in the robot cell. During production, the sensors can permanently record process data. This data will be stored in the Fraunhofer Cloud, processed, visualized in a user-friendly manner and transmitted to a virtual reality (VR) environment, which is also being set up as part of the project. Using VR goggles, the researchers can observe and monitor the process in near real time.
Huge amounts of process data are generated as they are recorded and processed. Data transmission over conventional digital infrastructures would be far too slow for real-time process monitoring. For this reason, the researchers will use the 5G technology available at the RWTH Aachen campus to transmit and process the enormous volumes of data. The 5G and cloud technologies ensure that machine users do not even have to be physically close to the LMD-w plant for virtual process monitoring: The idea is to make that monitoring possible from a greater distance – for example, from the office.
In the final phase of the research project, the project team will validate the solutions developed using various real-life application scenarios in the Fraunhofer IPT's robot cell.
The results of the research project will significantly improve process monitoring in LMD-w. The new insights into the processes gained by means of data acquisition will make the results more reproducible and production more resilient. This will pave the way for industrial series production with LMD-w at the highest standard. The project results can also help companies integrate VR applications as well as 5G technology into their own production processes.
In perspective, the results of the research project "VITAMINE_5G" will serve as a basis for research on interactive solutions. Research work is planned on solutions to enable machine operators to interact with the machine during the process in the future. This way, they will be able to prevent an error from happening before the component is unusable.
The research project "VITAMINE_5G – Virtual reality environment for Additive Manufacturing enabled by 5G" is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Protection and Energy (MWIKE) of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia as part of the 5G.NRW funding competition.
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