17-12-2021 smart industry

€ 850,000 grant awarded for the development of a fully automated and future-proof production line

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Three companies in the Northern Netherlands, Menicon, STT Products and Demcon Industrial Systems Groningen, are joining forces for the purpose of strengthening the innovative capacity of the manufacturing industry in the region. With their AutomatIQ project they are developing a fully automated and future-proof production line for medical devices.

Smart manufacturing
There is a need for automation and digitalization in the Dutch high tech and medical manufacturing industry. Improved and accelerated production processes are required to be able to continue to innovate and maintain our competitive position at the production level in comparison to low-wage countries. The application of smart manufacturing plays a key role in this regard.

The core of smart manufacturing consists of the use of fully automatic and autonomous production processes by making use of new technologies, data, mutual connectedness through the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). This can subsequently be used to achieve flawless production and predictable maintenance of the production lines, for large as well as small production volumes.

Production line of the future
The production of medical devices at low numbers and high variability involves many critical processes. Menicon, STT Products and Demcon are in the process of developing a new, fully automated production line that meets smart manufacturing principles. This advanced line provides continuous feedback about the actual product, machine and production properties in support of the quality assurance process.

The combined automated process and continuous quality control means that the new production line has a threefold production capacity in comparison to the current line. This increased scale is achieved without expanding floor area or personnel.

In addition, the design of the production line is future-proof because of the application of advanced software for achieving real-time data transfer to a virtual environment. This way a digital twin – a virtual copy of the production line – is created that makes it possible to perform real-time analyses in the future for the purpose of achieving a flawless production process.

The consortium
The three involved parties in the consortium each bring valuable knowledge and competencies to the project. Menicon, end-user of the production line to be developed, has all the required product and quality knowledge in-house in its extensive R&D department. STT Products provides knowledge about the production optimization, precision mechanics and electrical engineering needed to realize the targeted solution. A key role has been put aside for Demcon in the field of digitalization and artificial intelligence to create the digital twin and to shape the autonomous capacity of the production line.

Grant for AutomatIQ prototype
Currently the key focus of the AutomatIQ project is on the development of a fully functional prototype and the associated software. The prototype will subsequently be tested in the production environment; Menicon’s cleanroom. A grant in the amount of € 850,000 has been made available by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the prototype’s development and test phase. The plan calls for the proven prototype to be delivered by mid-2023.

The ERDF grant gives this project an extra boost in order to develop the Northern Netherlands knowledge and manufacturing industry. Besides the economic impact for Menicon, the knowledge and technology acquired and developed by Demcon and STT Products can also be used for optimizing production processes in other branches of the manufacturing industry. Finally, the acquired knowledge and specializations make a contribution to the innovative capacity of the region.

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