In a research project conducted with the AI lab Fetch.ai, autonomous software agents are to optimise the supply chains involved in manufacturing. Greater autonomy in manufacturing aims to achieve faster responses to market requirements and facilitate the provision of personalised, customised orders for the customer.
Currently, equipment capacity is not fully utilised because production is always subject to variations in demand. Decentralised manufacturing marketplaces address this issue: Manufacturers and suppliers make unused capacity available on a short-term basis and can use free capacity from other companies to help with their own orders.
As part of the research project, Festo is using the Fetch.ai agent-based approach for greater autonomy in manufacturing. The manufacturing marketplace is managed using blockchain technology. Blockchain makes it possible to share information securely via a decentralised database that is used by a large number of participants. Blockchains are reliable directories that are updated in real time, allowing digital transactions to be documented reliably and in a clearly understandable way for the participants.
“Blockchain technology enables us to track orders on the manufacturing marketplace and ensure that those participating in the network are not discovering any of the manufacturer’s trade secrets. Payments using cryptocurrencies can also be processed directly and securely via blockchain,” explains Eduard Grün, Blockchain Development Lead at Festo.
Decentralised manufacturing marketplace
Various agents are involved in the manufacturing marketplace. Each process step – from milling to screwing to the quality inspection of the equipment – has its own software agent to represent it. This agent liaises with the product agent that wants to book the various process steps made available by the equipment for manufacturing purposes. In the first stage of the research project, Festo and Fetch.ai are testing this via the modular production system MPS, a universal industry 4.0 miniature training factory from Festo Didactic.
“With the multi-agent architecture from Fetch.ai, we are creating a new opportunity to make better use of machines on a global scale and to plan supply chains more efficiently,” explains Eduard Grün.
“We are delighted to be able to announce a partnership with such an advanced technology company as Festo,” says Maria Minaricova, Director of Business Development at Fetch.ai. “With Festo’s contribution, we will be in a position to be able to demonstrate the practical advantages of autonomous AI agents in manufacturing and within the supply chain. We are looking forward to continuing our partnership with Festo so that we can establish these groundbreaking innovations in manufacturing on a broader scale.”