The Carl Zeiss Foundation is funding six interdisciplinary research projects focused on the use of artificial intelligence in manufacturing. A total of almost six million euros is dedicated to teams from Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia. The projects were selected as part of the ‘CZS Transfer’ programme, which finances application-oriented research projects at universities of applied sciences. The research is examining the potential and opportunities for using AI in manufacturing processes. Examples include how a digital foreman can take on some of the work of skilled personnel, how production processes can be planned more efficiently using a digital twin, and how intelligent sensors and actuators can make the manufacturing process more flexible.
In a 2018 study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWI), an average of 25% of large companies and 15% of SMEs reported using AI technologies at least to a minor extent. However, the majority of small and medium-sized enterprises stated that no activities are yet carried out autonomously by machines. The market for AI in Germany offers considerable opportunities. To support the use of AI in manufacturing, the Carl Zeiss Foundation funds individual research projects at universities of applied sciences with up to one million euros each. In a two-stage review process, the most impressive proposals came from teams at Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences in Jena as well as the higher education institutions in Furtwangen, Heilbronn, Pforzheim, Ravensburg-Weingarten and Trier.
‘Basic and application-oriented research are equally important to us,’ says Dr Felix Streiter, Managing Director of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. ‘Therefore, with the call for proposals for AI in manufacturing, we deliberately opted for research funding with a practical focus. With this, we want to contribute to the transfer of knowledge and technology. Another example of this is our newly advertised CZS Prototypes programme.’
Since the beginning of 2021, the Carl Zeiss Foundation has concentrated its funding on multi-year focus topics. The first focus topic is Artificial Intelligence. The second focus topic, Resource Efficiency, will target the sustainable use of resources.