University Students Gain Industry 4.0 Experience with Smart Factory Demo

January 29, 2019

Christine Young  By: Christine Young
 Blogger, Maxim Integrated 


One of Maxim’s most popular demos, showcased at the last two electronica tradeshows in Germany, has been its soccer ball factory. Designed with industrial internet of things (IIoT) technologies, the smart factory now has a new home: University College Dublin.

In December, Maxim donated the demo to the university’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. There, professors and academics plan to introduce a new robotics and digital manufacturing module and a lab where students can experiment with various robot configurations. The demo will also be used in research projects. Potential areas of study include modern machine-learning tactics, advanced robotic automation systems, high-payload-capacity robots, and advanced industrial communications simulations for human/robot collaborations, according to Professor Nikos Papakostas, the director of the Master of Engineering with Business Program and research director at the Laboratory for Advanced Manufacturing Simulation (LAMS) at the school.

Maxim’s Dublin office is located near the university, and the two entities enjoy a strong collaboration. The soccer ball factory demo provides a hands-on experience in the principles of adaptive manufacturing and the industrial internet of things (IIoT). It’s calibrated to test regulation-size soccer balls for weight, roundness, bounce height, and air pressure. An industrial robot handles the balls, while an iPad app provides a mechanism to wirelessly control the whole assembly line. Even though the demo is optimized to test size-five soccer balls, it can be configured on-the-fly to test different-sized balls. If, at some random point in the production line, a smaller or larger ball gets inserted, the factory can readjust its sensor calibrations and robotic software to process the new size accordingly. Given these capabilities, the factory can be a vehicle for showing how adaptive today’s manufacturing environments can be to product variations, specification changes, and more. "We are very happy that we can now pass the factory on to good hands to help educate a new generation of students and prepare them for the technological challenges of the future,” noted Jeff DeAngelis, managing director, Industrial & Healthcare Business Unit at Maxim Integrated during a donation ceremony at the university (Figure 1).

Soccer ball factory demo
Figure 1. Maxim’s Jeff DeAngelis discusses the company’s smart soccer ball factory demo, which has been donated to University College Dublin. Photo courtesy of University College Dublin.

“As Maxim already has a well-established partnership with UCD’s School of Electrical Engineering, both in terms of internships, recruitment, and education, it was very natural to try to expand this relationship into the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the largest and the leading one of its kind in Ireland,” said Anders Reisch, managing director of Sales Training at Maxim. “During our discussions, it became clear that both a robot and an open-source PLC (programmable logic controller) platform would be very useful for UCD both for formal teaching activities and research/projects. We are hoping that this donation will help Maxim be recognized as a leading vendor for electronics in industrial automation, and that UCD can point us in the right direction when it comes to research and trends in the same field.”

Tiny, Power-Efficient Reference Design Brings Intelligence to the Edge
The soccer ball factory demo consists of various industrial communications components. At the heart of the demo is Maxim’s Go-IO IIoT reference design, which can be used to move intelligence closer to the edge of an automated factory. The Go-IO is 10x smaller and consumes 50% less power than its predecessor. The reference design is built with Maxim’s new third-generation industrial automation chipset consisting of:

  • 12 highly integrated ICs
  • A 4-channel IO-Link master to provide a universal IO interface to both analog and digital sensors
  • 17 IOs supporting multiple digital IO configurations
  • A robust 25Mbps isolated RS-485 communications channel that provides a reliable, multi-drop data network for uploading time-sensitive health and status information into the cloud

With the smart, IO-Link-enabled sensors communicating health and status information from the factory, the system enables the level of real-time decision-making that can enhance factory productivity and uptime. “You have equipment that is far away from headquarters. Instead of sending an engineer or an operator there every week or every month, you just get information from the signals and you make a decision. It’s a breakthrough technology and it will change a lot,” said Papakostas.

Indeed, the demo embodies the transformation that is underway in industrial environments, thanks in large part to technological advancements in areas like robotics, machine learning, and, of course, the IoT. “There are simply tremendous commercial opportunities ahead in the field of robotics and to give students the opportunity to experiment and get their hands dirty with a real system is hugely beneficial,” noted John Kirwan, vice president of Global Customer Operations at Maxim.