Automation in complex production environments

Controlling highly individual production processes

The concept of interconnecting and monitoring process chains in control units and control stations is already well established in some sectors of industry and in some applications, particularly in continuous process engineering. Continuous data acquisition for flexible and adaptive control of discreet and highly automated process sequences – even in complex production environments, is part of Industry 4.0. The cultivation of living cells is an example of process sequences in complex environments.  

Process automation and control in cell technology is a critical venture: influencing factors such as cell density, temperature, humidity and gas concentration as well as the very marked genetic individuality of cell products, imposes exacting demands on the process control operation. A high degree of networking among individual devices and seamless integration of metrology within process control, are major prerequisites.

In the collaborative “StemCellFactory” project, the Fraunhofer IPT along with partners from research and industry developed a fully automated production platform for the production of stem cells. This platform has numerous quality assurance and cell processing components, which are interconnected via a central control station. Each cell colony is measured continuously and the process parameters are repeatedly adapted automatically on the basis of the measuring results. The control station developed specially for this purpose controls the entire process and monitors the devices and material used throughout the entire production process. The user is informed automatically by the system if the volume of resources – the fill level of process media, for example – falls below a specified level. The device resource management system automatically applies an automatic scheduling algorithm.

In addition to the quality assurance and processing devices, the platform has a range of basic functionalities at field level and some safety-relevant systems equipped with a programmable logic controller. This is integrated within the production platform as an additional module and is connected with the control station. In addition to this, the platform has a range of logging functions which ensure data consistency at process and device levels. The data are collected, processed and saved systematically. A user-friendly operator interface displays these data to the operator and supports the evaluation of the data.

The “StemCellFactory” is an example of how even highly customized production processes can be designed, with connected, adaptive systems, to be extremely flexible and efficient.