Fraunhofer, www.fraunhofer.de/en

Second Life, www.secondlife.com

Visit MACHINE DESING on Second Life at 191.25.143

Ever wish you could make your own vehicle? The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation Research Center in Germany is building a virtual factory on Second Life, an online “world” you can travel through in the form of a digital alter-ego known as an avatar. The “factory of eMotions” will let users build four-wheel motorbikes by programming industrial robots, switching on conveyor belts, and painting the frame. Car lovers can also watch vehicles being assembled part by part.

The organization’s goal is to familiarize people with a technically advanced factory while exposing them to a new form of online media. Users (avatars) first indicate which quad model they want to build by choosing between power or fuel savings; black, silver, or red; and types of wheel rims, says Fraunhofer scientist Stefan Seitz. The factory then sends out the parts list, manufactures and assembles components, and puts them through quality inspections. “Avatars can watch production processes and interact at certain stages. Learning platforms along the factory hall give users relevant background information, explaining things such as how the production process is controlled and how presses work,” he says.

According to Seitz, the main challenge in designing the factory was putting together the control logic for production — in other words, teaching the factory how to make a part on one machine, transfer it to another machine, and mount the part. The research team has developed a modular factory which industrial companies can use as building blocks to set up their own virtual factories. The developers have even included speech recognition, so users can control machines and robots by telephone.