Founded in 2017 on the campus of the University of Twente, the Fraunhofer Project Center looks back at five years of intensive contacts between science and the manufacturing industry. During this period, the corona pandemic put production chains under a lot of pressure. Manufacturers were forced to adapt quickly in order to survive, and at the same time they were forced to develop a long term strategy, says scientific director Prof Ian Gibson. FPC is now ready for the next step: a new office of its own close to the campus, with demo facilities for Industry 4.0. It also announces a new identity: the Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for Advanced Manufacturing (FIP-AM@UT).
Fraunhofer Project Center is a collaboration of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT, Aachen, Germany), the University of Twente and Saxion University of Applied Sciences. It focuses on solutions for the manufacturing industry, aiming at closing the gap between a promising high tech idea and the production environment it needs for turning it into a successful product. An example is the rapidly upcoming technology of photonics. This is communication, sensing and processing technology that works with light. How do you make the transition from producing a few chips for niche markets, towards large series produced according to a new industrial standard? FPC helped industry by developing a flexible production machine. On the other hand, it can help innovate existing production processes, for instance by introducing 3D printing technology.
The corona pandemic had a major impact on manufacturing companies. In many cases, they had to act fast in order to survive, because supply chains came to a halt, raw materials and transport quickly became more expensive or there was simply not enough personnel available. Once again it became clear that even a company that acts locally, has to deal with a global playing field. It can, for example, become a victim of the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips. FPC can help companies develop a long term strategy that makes them more resilient under extreme circumstances like this. It can, for example, screen all processes and make them more transparent and intelligent. This is also the essence of ‘Industry 4.0’, characterized by more direct contacts between the suppliers, the producer and the client, using techniques like artificial intelligence
FPC is currently building office and lab space of its own, very close to the UT campus. It will then also proceed under the name Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for Advanced Manufacturing (FIP-AM@UT), that characterizes its activities in a better way. The platform foresees growth towards 40 employees and is planning to build a demo environment for its Industry 4.0 approach. More and more, Fraunhofer also plays a role in university education, involving students in its projects: they are the ones who will come up with the new ideas, they have a keen interest in the manufacturing options for these ideas and they will be able to use the knowledge gained in their study programmes.