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Bosch leading major research project on software-defined manufacturing

Led by Bosch, the University of Stuttgart, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), a total of thirty companies will define the foundations for software-defined manufacturing (SDM) over the next three years in the SDM4FZI research project (Software-Defined Manufacturing for the Vehicle and Supplier Industry). The goal is to design software that can flexibly plan, manage, and modify everything from individual components to entire factories.

In the automotive industry, this will pave the way for more variants and faster model and product changes. It will also improve competitiveness. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is funding the research project with some €35 million.


Today, it often takes months, and sometimes years, for the technical elements of the manufacturing chain for a new model to be put in place, from supplier to final assembly. Together with the considerable economic cost involved, this stymies rapid market launches.

The root cause of this is that many machines are designed and built specifically for one single new product. The software is usually inextricably coupled to particular machinery and products and is not transferable to other processes.

SDM4FZI now aims to create a uniform framework for factories that will enable new products to be manufactured in existing operating environments without major retooling times.

By linking various Industry 4.0 approaches, we are getting one step closer to adaptable manufacturing. An ecosystem for software-defined manufacturing allows us to bring the benefits of cloud technology to production. Software makes it possible to use automation technology and IT systems for individual, specific applications without having to build the hardware from scratch.

—Bosch project manager Matthias Meier

The software-defined manufacturing method used in SDM4FZI was developed by the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW) at the University of Stuttgart and Bosch. The project began with joint preliminary work and has now been initiated by the ISW and the wbk Institute of Production Science at KIT within the framework of the Innovation Campus “Future Mobility” (ICM).

The scientists at KIT focus on the design of software and hardware in modern, digitized production.

In particular, we are investigating how production versatility can be increased by a targeted decoupling of software and hardware, i.e., how this can be adapted to changing framework conditions.

—Professor Gisela Lanza from the wbk Institute of Production Science at KIT

Central to this is the virtual mapping of components and systems in production using digital twins, and their interaction with digital images of products and technologies along the entire value chain. By using digital twins, companies can prepare and implement improvements, and also use AI to analyze them, without having to interrupt the production process.

The wbk team is also investigating the extent to which quality control for complex manufacturing processes can be supported by the separation of software and hardware and the integration of functional models.

In addition, the researchers at KIT are involved in the fields of robotics and handling at the Institute for Materials Handling and Logistics and at the Institute for Anthropomatics and Robotics - Intelligent Process Automation and Robotics, as well as in cloud integration and the connection to Gaia-X at the Institute of Applied Informatics and Formal Description Methods.

The University of Stuttgart, which is represented by a total of four institutes in the SDM4FZI project that are managed by the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW), focuses on the two SDM core technologies: The Reference Architecture Model and Production OT (Operational Technology).

Digital twins represent a key element of the SDM concept They describe products, processes, and production systems by means of data, information, and behavioral models that are developed throughout the entire machine or product life cycle.

—Professor Alexander Verl, Head of the ISW


A consistent blueprint (reference architecture) ensures interoperability across the entire supply chain. Production OT capable of SDM enables automatically generated software to be distributed to production systems interoperably and in real time. This requires entirely new infrastructure with open control architectures and continuous communication from sensor to cloud.

The main focus of the research alliance’s project is on making automation technology, machinery, and systems more flexible in order to boost efficiency in the production of supplier components and vehicles.

New opportunities for the vehicle industry. By pooling expertise from automation, mechanical engineering, IT, and the automotive industry, the consortium aims to create a common understanding of the requirements and to develop interoperable solutions.

The large number of project partners demonstrates how substantial a role software plays in the manufacturing of tomorrow.

—Michael Neubauer, chief technology officer for ISW at the University of Stuttgart

For example, the project partners are drafting a guide for the selection and use of suitable technologies, as well as standards for building software-defined factories.


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