Lighthouse project "EVOLOPRO"

© Fraunhofer IPT

Evolutionary self-adaptation of complex production processes and products

The aim of the EVOLOPRO lighthouse project is to employ evolutionary biological mechanisms to create a new generation of production systems. Such “biological manufacturing systems” are able to adapt to new demands and environmental conditions in a manner analogous to biological organisms. Unlike nature, however, biological manufacturing systems do not require many thousands of years to achieve this. Thanks to recent achievements in the context of Industrie 4.0, this can be accomplished within a very short period of time.

Biological manufacturing systems build upon existing production methods and Industrie 4.0 and combine them with findings from developmental and molecular biology. This approach differs from that of other projects, e.g. machine learning, whose aim is usually only to optimize processes for a specific purpose. By contrast, EVOLOPRO focusses on generating adaptability by promoting variation and even allowing errors. Thus, in the context of EVOLOPRO, manufacturing errors are not regarded as rejects but, as in biology, as a valuable resource for adaptation and for the refinement of technical systems and processes.

To implement this idea for future manufacturing processes, EVOLOPRO not only relies on new algorithms modelled on biology but also on the principle of a “digital twin” that interacts with a digital environment. According to the principle of the survival of the fittest, i.e. the survival of the best adapted, differences between the target component and its actual state can be analyzed and evaluated within the digital world.

The effectiveness of evolutionary self-adaptation is being validated in three pilot applications: the single component, the assembly of multiple components, and the interaction of multiple components over time. As demonstrators, real products with a significant economic relevance for the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft were selected. The aim is to generically explore the EVOLOPRO concept of evolutionary self-optimization and to demonstrate it with the selected pilot types and pilot chains for a broad range of applications.

The complexity of a biological manufacturing system requires the core skills of various Fraunhofer Institutes in the fields of materials science, production, mathematics and information technology. The project, which runs for four years, is headed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT.