All vehicles and machines will in future be linked to the Internet of Things. Schaeffler is therefore greatly promoting digitalization and is now concentrating on five focal areas.
The world is undergoing radical change. In just a few years’ time, all the machines around us will be interconnected in the Internet of Things – whether it is your own car, production machinery, or wind turbines. The digital twins of these machines communicate with each other without any human intervention. Based on these exchanged data, it is possible to optimize the interaction of individual components in complex systems. Seamless transport in urban centers or perfect processes in a high-tech manufacturing facility are typical examples of the added value that may result from data-based services and business models.
Schaeffler is well prepared for the new digital world – because our systems and components are found in machines exactly where the most important data are generated. Through extensive investments in research and development over the last few years, we have ensured that these components are intelligent – in other words that they can record and transmit data. We are now connecting the physical world, the world we come from, with the new digital world. This creates new opportunities for our customers – and for ourselves. By establishing a Schaeffler cloud, we are providing our customers with a platform so that they can securely and reliably access data from their machines and equipment.
We are developing solutions for the digital world based on a solid technical foundation which comprises intelligent, communication-capable components and systems as well as a platform for secure data exchange. In doing so, we are concentrating on the following five focal areas:
The actual value of data comes from interpretation. This is why we are developing more and more products, which, with the help of decentralized intelligence, can evaluate sensor data on site and act immediately via actuators – for example, in the electrified drive train of a car or in an intelligent machine tool. In our research we are focusing on self-learning technical systems that permanently optimize their control behavior through the acquired data.
The networked production of the future continuously optimizes itself by means of intelligent machines that communicate with each other. Schaeffler does not only assume a leading role during the development of intelligent components and digital services but also during their application in their own manufacturing plants. We greatly benefit from this. For example, in practice we can see which improvements in productivity are possible with the enhanced network of our machines and equipment, which are already equipped with many sensors, and we rapidly pass on this knowledge to a learning organization.
Business processes of the future are shaped by the fact that obtained data without media disruptions can be used everywhere in the company, whether it’s for Logistics in Production or for Maintenance. We consider it our duty to ensure that our customers have consistent use of the data that are generated by Schaeffler products. At the same time, we are further digitalizing our own processes, for example by providing an increasing number of components already in manufacturing with an unmistakable identification number with which the complete product life cycle can be traced.
Data are the raw material of the digital world. By combining and correlating data, we can improve the design of our products to suit specific applications in the future. In addition, we want to offer an increasing number of services, which are based on the consistent monitoring of machines and equipment. Today’s technology makes it possible to identify imminent mechanical damage at such an early stage that preventive maintenance work must no longer be carried out in accordance with a certain machine operating time but as and when required. This reduces downtimes and increases the productivity of our customers.
People also play a decisive role in the digital world. We use online software from Schaeffler in order to design bearings for a new machine. Or if a maintenance engineer wants to get an idea of the condition of a production facility before a meeting at the customer’s premises. This is why we are concentrating intensively on the appearance of optimum operator and user interfaces and we are developing further expertise in this area.
In an interconnected world added value comes from the consistent use of data – in all sectors in which Schaeffler is active. The following are four concrete examples of the near future that show the benefits for customers and the company itself.
An automobile manufacturer uses the Schaeffler hybrid module in order to significantly reduce the fuel consumption of a future vehicle model. The developers have to clarify many questions: What should the output of the electric motor be? How much storage capacity does the battery require? In order to avoid high manufacturing costs, the engineers first carry out a big data analysis with the anonymized data of a test fleet. This way you can identify exactly how buyers of a certain model drive in reality – and their decisions can be made on a valid basis.
In a Schaeffler plant products are manufactured with a high degree of precision for hundreds of different applications. Due to a fire in a competitor’s plant, within a few minutes several new orders are received that must be processed with highest priority. This is a difficult task as all existing delivery confirmations must of course be observed. However, within minutes the intelligent manufacturing system has reorganized the entire production scheduling. It naturally takes into account stocks for raw materials and finished parts as well as the availability of each individual production machine.
The operator of a wind farm has concluded a maintenance contract with Schaeffler that guarantees a certain level of machine availability. A condition monitoring system ensures that the condition of each individual wind turbine is permanently monitored. The comparison of historical data with the knowledge of the mechanical engineering specialists not only makes it possible to detect imminent damage early on but also to precisely determine the remaining operating life. As the wind forecast predicts that the machines will operate with high accuracy for the next three days, the required replacement of mechanical components can be postponed until the winds are low again.
A transmission manufacturer and long-standing customer of Schaeffler has received a large order that must be processed within a very tight deadline. Due to the specific fitting conditions, however, the existing transmission module will not fit in the vehicle without making mechanical adjustments. The transmission manufacturer must use new gear technology at short notice, which in turn requires a new bearing design. The engineers at the customer’s premises and at Schaeffler exchange all design, calculation, and test data in real time and discuss design details based on virtual prototypes that are displayed three-dimensionally using data glasses. In a record time of a few months, a transmission variant is created capable of production.