Flexible production systems for smart surfaces

Project SEMAKI - Self-learning control of a cross-technology matrix production by simulation-based AI.
© Andrina Theiss

The SE.MA.KI project is aimed at the planning of an overall concept for a production system for coating technology. The interfaces to other production technologies are essential for the success of the work. The implementation will initially be focused on the automotive interior of the future, as well as mechanical and systems engineering. Following the establishment of the overall system, further applications from differing mobility sectors will be addressed. In collaboration with partner institutes of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and (above and beyond the SE.MA.KI project) the Technische Universität Braunschweig, production-integrated coating solutions will be developed and implemented. The results will be used at the Fraunhofer IST for the planning and construction of a flexible production system.

Surfaces are the areas of objects which we, as humans, perceive, or via which components in complex systems interact with one another. In addition to purely technical functionality, they provide us with a feeling of value and substantially determine the design and, consequently, the acceptance by the customer.

Surface technologies are manufacturing processes with the aid of which the properties of these areas can be specifically adjusted largely independently of the base material. The complexity of modern coating processes such as thin-film technology (CVD, PVD), however, impedes the economic production, particularly as regards small quantities. The solution which we envisage here is an automated production system with a modular structure.

Surface technology spans a wide field: from decorative coatings and insulating barrier coatings on packaging materials, through optical coating systems on precision filters, and on to low-friction and wear-resistant coating systems for components and tools. The costs per surface or part thereby range from much less than one cent through to several thousand euros. For small quantities or individual solutions in particular, however, they frequently lie in an uneconomical range.

One key question is therefore: How can surface technology be made accessible for a broad range of applications in different industries, in particular through a reduction in costs?

Essentially, the following applies:

  • Economic efficiency must be achievable, even with relatively low quantities and complex geometries
  • Production must be reliable, i.e. reproducibility must be ensured and rejects reduced
  • Processes must be optimized; starting points include automated readjustment, inline quality assurance and predictive maintenance

What does a sustainable, matrix-oriented production system in coating technology look like?

In existing coating systems, either individual plants are planned and connected sequentially or multi-chamber plants with several coating technologies are utilized.

In the SE.MA.KI project, we are planning a fully coordinated production system with standardized interfaces, which allows a modular structure and an exchange of technologies depending on the particular application. Through a free concatenation of the plants, layer systems can be deposited in any desired sequence. The automation and parallelization of tasks allows a higher utilization of the plants. By numbering up the processes used, a matrix system can be represented for the coating technology.

How can the quality of coating deposition be improved?

We are planning a comprehensive implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and data-based methods for process control and readjustment as well as inline quality assurance. The AI and the plant operator will work closely together to combine substantiated, data-based decisions with the necessary innovative power of humans. This will, firstly, significantly shorten run-in times and, secondly, enable new coating systems to be implemented more quickly on the basis of experience and the results of the accompanying development work. The prerequisite for this is the self-description of the products, processes and the production system, which is represented via the necessary sensor integration for status monitoring as well as the plant-control system for networking the cells. The result is a qualified description of process parameter-structure-property relationships of the thin-film systems.

How can surface technology be applied in broader areas of manufacturing industries?

Surface technology is essential as a cross-cutting topic in all sectors, but is often viewed as an additional, supplementary work step with high financial costs in investment and operation. One solution approach is the design of interfaces to other technologies as well as new ways of thinking in design and manufacturing. Surface design is taken into account in component development and manufacturing and is understood as an integrative element. In the SE.MA.KI project, we have set ourselves the goal of creating the necessary interfaces and increasing the degree of automation of the manufacturing technologies under consideration to the same level.


Reference project


Learn more about the overall project SE.MA.KI.

Funding reference

The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.