"SmartLab” is the name chosen by Matthias Schneider and his team for their advanced wood laboratory at the Institute for Machine Tools (IfW), which serves as a proving ground where industry representatives and students can work with and process timber. The facility is equipped like a small factory with saws, throughput plant, CNC machining centers, and a chipping robot all supported by augmented reality (AR) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
What makes the wood lab a SmartLab?
Matthias Schneider (MS): The machines in our laboratory think for themselves and alert us to any errors. We operate the machines with the aid of technology, which enables us to work more efficiently and cost-effectively. What is special about this is that we are implementing the new technologies on the existing machinery. In practical terms, we overlay a network of sensors over the respective machine tool without interfering with it or modifying it meaning that it retains its certification status, which saves time and costs.
What do the new technologies specifically enable you to do?
MS: We use augmented reality applications to store information, such as instruction steps, product data sheets, and status or error messages, in each of a machine's sensors. All the users have to do is point a tablet at the sensor and the information is displayed on the screen, which for example, can provide them with step-by-step instructions for presetting tools. We also created an IoT platform for monitoring wood dust in the SmartLab, as wood dust can cause serious health problems for employees, which is why we installed particulate matter sensors in the laboratory, which display the measured values on a monitor in the entrance area.
What challenges do you still have to overcome?
MS: One challenging aspect is that, unfortunately, many systems are not currently compatible with all the machinery, so we have to develop numerous special solutions to integrate the smart technology into the machines in question, which is obviously expensive and time-consuming. Our aim is to develop more plug-and-play solutions to address this issue. We also want to increase the acceptance of digitalization and new technologies in the skilled trade departments of smaller companies to which end we need to calculate the benefits of digitalization for smaller businesses to be able to justify the time necessary to prepare and maintain the data.