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Bosch makes factories smart, lean, and flexible

Hannover Messe 2018 (hall 17, booth A40)

  • New plant: Bosch to invest 100 million euros in a smart factory in Mexico
  • New strategy: Bosch Rexroth increases sales to 5.5 billion euros
  • New name: Bosch pools software and services for manufacturing and logistics under the name Nexeed

Stuttgart and Hannover, Germany – The only fixed elements are the floor, the walls, and the roof. Everything else is movable and connected. Machines drive in and out as needed, assembly lines grow longer or shorter, autonomous transport robots deliver components to workers. Robots work directly with human colleagues, relieving them of dangerous or strenuous tasks. Power is transmitted wirelessly via induction loops in the factory floor. Workers, machines, and components are connected via intelligent software systems and mobile devices. An ultrafast 5G wireless network enables real-time data exchange, while artificial intelligence improves product quality through early fault detection. This reduces the burden on workers, leaving them with more time for other tasks, such as programming algorithms, developing new business models, or taking on other creative tasks. That is how Bosch imagines future factories will be. At Hannover Messe, in line with the slogan “Factory of the future. Now. Next. Beyond,” Bosch will be presenting what the company already offers (now) for connected factories, what solutions will soon be ready (next), and what it is developing for the future (beyond).

People, machines, and data: the three pillars of success in the connected factory

Bringing connectivity to existing factories and equipment is also critical to the success of Industry 4.0. On 1,300 square meters of floor space at Hannover Messe, Bosch is showcasing both aspects: the smart, lean, and flexible factory of the future as well as connected solutions that are already in operation today in manufacturing and logistics. Both scenarios have something in common: the interplay of hardware, software, and services – orchestrated by people. “The three pillars of success in the factory of the future are people, machines, and data,” said Dr. Stefan Hartung, the Bosch board of management member whose responsibilities include the Industrial Technology business sector.

Steady sales growth with Industry 4.0

Connected solutions helped Bosch increase its sales of industrial technology by 7.7 percent to 6.7 billion euros in 2017. “Our portfolio of solutions for manufacturing and logistics is constantly growing, which means we can gradually turn our vision of a completely connected value stream into reality,” Hartung said. The establishment in 2018 of the Bosch Connected Industry operating unit with 500 associates, plus the new Nexeed software portfolio, underline the importance of connectivity to Bosch. “We are getting closer and closer to achieving our aim of exploiting Industry 4.0 to increase overall sales by more than a billion euros by 2020,” Hartung said. Outstanding results from Bosch Rexroth are also helping reach this milestone, with the drive and control technology specialist generating sales of 5.5 billion euros in 2017 – a year-on-year increase of 10.4 percent. Its strategic realignment in recent years has helped Bosch Rexroth improve its competitiveness and gain market share.

New smart plants in Mexico and China

In addition, Bosch is investing heavily in Mexico, this year’s partner country at Hannover Messe: the company is spending some 100 million euros on a smart plant for electronic components in Celaya, central Mexico, which will be completed by 2019. Covering 21,000 square meters, the plant will manufacture engine control units for the Mexican and U.S. markets. Bosch is looking to create more than 1,200 jobs at the new location. “Industry 4.0 improves business processes and delivers higher productivity. That means we’re creating jobs, too,” Hartung said. Bosch is also planning an Industry 4.0 reference factory in China. A plant for control systems and linear motion technology is being built up step by step in the city of Xian. By 2020, it will be digitally equipped with new manufacturing processes – and visitors to the trade fair will have a chance to see what these processes might look like.

Robots generate more jobs

Hartung also stressed the importance of robotics, adding that a recent study shows it has driven an increase in jobs so far in Germany. Economists at the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) predict that employment will grow by 0.4 percent per year until 2021. The study reports that while robots are replacing some jobs, this is more than compensated for by job growth elsewhere. “In the Industry 4.0 era, people are as indispensable as ever,” Hartung said. When it comes to complex tasks or quality control, robots can provide specific support. Robots as colleagues – that is the message behind the Pixar-style 3D avatars that visitors will see at the center of the Bosch booth. Standing 1.5 meters tall, they move around on the virtual factory stage. The APAS mobile production robot, for instance, works closely with human colleagues without coming into physical contact with them. Meanwhile, the ActiveCockpit intelligent communications platform keeps production workers permanently up to date on the status of operations, while an autonomous transport robot not only carries parts from A to B but also works on them en route.

Machines teach themselves new skills

What makes this so exciting is that all these avatars are mock-ups of market-ready applications or pilot projects. “We are already helping our customers optimize the management of their production lines and plants,” said Rolf Najork, the managing director of Bosch Rexroth AG. “But in the future, there will be even greater demand for flexibility, transparency, and speed.” Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a central role in this. Engineers have found a fun way to demonstrate what AI is capable of in an industrial setting: KI-cker (KI is the German abbreviation for artificial intelligence) is a take on football where the intelligent interplay of drive and control technology with artificial intelligence gradually turns the goalkeeper and the field players into talented soccer pros. KI-cker is built around a neural network that constantly learns from its playing experience. This is how machines will teach themselves new skills in the future. By way of examples, they can learn by themselves how to identify defects and faults – thereby continuously improving their performance.

Nexeed brings connectivity to manufacturing and logistics

Hardware applications need innovative software solutions running in the background to provide the necessary connectivity. At Hannover Messe, Bosch is presenting its new Nexeed software portfolio, which encompasses software and services for the entire value stream. “The factory of the future will get its intelligence from software – and from the brains of its workforce,” said Dr. Stefan Aßmann, who heads up Bosch Connected Industry. Bosch has systematically taken the comprehensive domain knowledge from its more than 270 plants and transformed it into software solutions. “Specialists in manufacturing, logistics, and software have worked together to create solutions that both simplify workers’ daily routines and make manufacturing and logistics more efficient, flexible, and eco-friendly.”

Stay on top of goods’ location and condition

The Nexeed Production Performance Manager ensures systematic improvements in production by helping quality and maintenance operatives make decisions quickly and easily. To do so, it gathers and harmonizes real-time production and machine data from a variety of sources in the manufacturing environment, gives it a clear structure, and presents it to workers on their mobile devices. This saves both time and money. Nexeed Track & Trace is a solution for monitoring the flow of goods. Sensors fitted to the goods themselves autonomously report their position and condition via the cellular network to the cloud. This means logisticians can trace each product and each carrier. It also means users can call up the precise delivery time and optimize their material and capacity planning. That, too, saves both time and money.

About Bosch

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 402,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2017). The company generated sales of 78.1 billion euros in 2017. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology.

As a leading IoT company, Bosch offers innovative solutions for smart homes, smart cities, connected mobility, and connected manufacturing. It uses its expertise in sensor technology, software, and services, as well as its own IoT cloud, to offer its customers connected, cross-domain solutions from a single source. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.” The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiary and regional companies in 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing, engineering, and sales network covers nearly every country in the world. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. At 125 locations across the globe, Bosch employs some 64,500 associates in research and development.

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861-1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant upfront investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-two percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust. The remaining shares are held by the Bosch family and by Robert Bosch GmbH.

Additional information is available online at www.bosch.com, www.iot.bosch.com, www.bosch-press.com, www.twitter.com/BoschPresse.