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Do you occasionally ask yourself what the real outcome of research is? Most of research is a lot of intellectual work with great ideas but in the IT area as an outcome, there is very often only few to be seen or even to be touched. Since most IT-related research topics are very often difficult to catch, because at runtime there are only bits and bytes crossing some network cables, I gratefully took the chance to look into the Future Factory Lab at SAP Research Center Dresden, where real-world production scenarios can be demonstrated and tested with real IT systems and real production machines.

Even working for SAP Research, I had no clue, what the Future Factory is all about and therefore, I was very curious to learn more about this research area. The tour starts in the show room, where we got an introduction both into Future Factory Initiative and the Future Factory Lab (FFL).

A lot of topics can be demonstrated in the lab, for example an end-to-end process integration and monitoring scenario concatenating different interacting systems such as SAP ERP, SAP Business ByDesign, SAP MII, SAP PCo, AII, EWM, and SAP ME.
Another topic of interest is plant data collection and shop floor execution, which deals with subjects like device connectivity via standards like OPC UA (OLE for Process Control Unified Architecture), robust and occasionally connected operations or highly customizable processes.
User interfaces for real-time manufacturing are a third main pillar. So the lab contains samples of highly usable touch screen user interfaces for workers, mobile UIs for tracking tasks or monitoring and process control, as well as special large screen UIs for status monitoring and control, or 3D visualization.
And last but not least there are exhibited examples for increasing process efficiency and new technologies, such as wireless online quality inspection tools, direct digital manufacturing, 3D printing, which is very impressive to someone not known to this technology, RFID for goods receipt, smart storage, location awareness, container tracking, and much more.

The FFL is an outcome of the Future Factory Initiative. The basic idea behind this initiative was to develop new IT solutions in a real-world production environment and therefore, being able to instantly demonstrate new ideas directly to customers. So, it is both, a showroom and test and validation platform for new developments. Furthermore, our guide through the lab told us, that the lab has a direct impact back on the research topics. Customers and partners, visiting the lab, also bring in ideas which may then lead to new research tasks.

The Future Factory Initiative has even more targets. A second scenario beside the FFL is to provide a real-world test bed for distributed manufacturing scenarios and B2B collaboration scenarios. Furthermore, it acts as a center of excellence for sharing ideas between experts, providing workshop and information days on different topics or joint projects between partners.

The Future Factory Initiative is not a standalone project from SAP, but a lot of technology and research partners are also involved, to mention just a few: HP, Intel, Kaba, Fraunhofer IAO, myOpenFacory, smartFactory, Festo, or Bayer Technology Services.

If you are now keen on seeing this demo lab during one of your next stays in Dresden or even want to find out, how your company can partner in the Future Factory Initiative, do not hesitate to contact SAP Research Center Dresden employees for a guided tour.

SAP Research CEC Dresden
Chemnitzer Str. 48
01187 Dresden, Germany
E-mail: research.dresden@sap.com

And if you not manage to come to Dresden but stay in Darmstadt or Regensdorf (Switzerland), there are also exciting places to discover research topics with SAP:

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