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Empowerment in tomorrow’s production: Rethinking mixed skill factories and collaborative robot systems

This project examined novel concepts for collaboration between humans and robots in factories.

Project description

Due to customer-specific mass production, flexibility in production is becoming increasingly important. The development of “Mixed-Skill-Factories” in the EmPReSs project aimed to demonstrate this flexibility by way of innovative human-robot collaboration, which together with intelligent and flexible planning, is making possible new divisions of labour and, thus, empowerment of humans.

In the project “Empowerment in tomorrow’s production: Rethinking mixed skill factories and collaborative robot systems (EmPReSs)”, novel concepts for human-robot collaboration in factories were being examined. The key question here was how these new technical systems can contribute to empowering employees and humanizing work in production. The scientific challenges in EmPReSs are multifaceted. On the one hand, consistent and formal modelling of process step requirements and skills must be developed in line with human-robot competencies. On the other hand, it is necessary to capture the special characteristics of human work and transfer them into intelligent process planning. At the same time, various aspects of empowerment are being worked out and integrated into human-robot collaboration by means of technical models.

The aim of this research project was to undertake an interdisciplinary and conceptual feasibility study into the design of “mixed skill factories” based on an innovative collaboration between humans and robots. In this context, on the one hand, existing technologies and tools are being analyzed and adjusted from a technical-scientific perspective, focusing on more flexible production planning and intuitive control of robots. On the other hand, the resulting scope for shaping technology, organization and work is being taken into account from an occupational-sociological perspective. It is crucial here to consider fully the empowerment of employees so as to create a foundation for the humanisation of work. Systematically analysing the opportunities and risks associated with this new type of collaboration will lead both to the flexibilisation of production and empowerment of employees within this new “mixed skill factories” regime.

The researchers developed the “Empowerment-by-design” approach for empowerment in human-machine interaction (HMI). The approach provides criteria for designing HMI and encompasses the dimensions of content, time, and learning facilitation. For the implementation of human-robot collaboration (HRC), the team developed the “Mixed-Skills” concept, as well as a “Mixed-Skill-Value” aimed at refining task allocation between humans and robots. Furthermore, based on the developed criteria, the team designed a graphical human-machine interface for interaction with humans.

As part of the project, the results were demonstrated through a physical concept demonstrator; thus, the “Empowerment-by-design” approach, including criteria for empowerment, humane work, and inherent learning in work, became tangible.

The project was completed by 30 June, 2023

Contact

Dr. Christoph Egle

Managing Director, bidt

Project team

Franz Steinmetz

Head of the research group “Interactive Skill Learning”, Institute of Robotics | German Aerospace Centre (DLR)

Florian Lay

Research associate / PhD student in the research group “Transferable Explainable Knowledge”, Institute for Robotics | German Aerospace Centre (DLR)

Michael Seidler

Doctoral Student, ISF Munich

Ingmar Kessler

Researcher, “Platform Engineering” competence field | fortiss

Dr. Norbert Huchler

Senior Researcher and Member of the Board, ISF Munich

Alexander Perzylo

Lead Researcher, “Platform Engineering” competence field | fortiss

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