Software­Defined Manufacturing

For the Vehicle and Supplier Industry.

Logo of the Project Software Defined Manufacturing

Michael Neubauer

Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units

University of Stuttgart


Maximizing Transformability for Production 4.0

The goal of the SDM4FZI project is to make factories in the automotive and supplier industry more adaptable. The proposed solution is to define production entirely via software and thus to make it dynamically adjustable. In this way, the project partners aim to create a production factory defined purely by software in order to achieve the highest level of adaptability.

The key success factor for being able to produce economically despite highly volatile markets is the adaptability of production systems. Software-defined manufacturing (SDM) is a revolutionary, model-driven approach to achieving this goal. The method is derived from information and communication technology, in which even non-preplanned device functions are defined entirely by software. To this end, the software is automatically derived and distributed from models (digital twins) that map the existing hardware.

Adaptable Production Systems as a Fundamental Precondition

The basic requirement for a production factory defined by software are adaptable production systems, as well as an open control and continuous (real-time) communication infrastructure from sensor to cloud, and a complete abstraction of the existing systems through digital twins. This technological basis is linked to an enormous ability to change in production technology, which is to be mastered by optimization algorithms.

New Standards of Operational Technology for the Production 4.0

The current production operational technology (OT) is not compatible with the SDM approach. Additional requirements such as the real-time distribution of automatically generated software to production systems, while ensuring interoperability, require a new infrastructure. Here, the method of virtualization to separate software and hardware through an abstraction layer is particularly relevant. But new paths must also be taken in communications technology to ensure sufficient connectivity. Existing standards such as TSN and OPC UA are being relied upon here. The platforms used must also be SDM-compatible and sufficiently open to enable the adaption of the transformable factory.

Digital Twins Based on Information Models as a Key Technology

  • Digital twins are the key element for the SDM concept. They describe products, processes and production systems by means of data, information and behavioral models that arise over the entire machine or product life cycle. The aim is to enable consistent mapping with reference characteristics along the entire supply chain of the vehicle and supplier industry through suitable composition of established and abstraction of competing models.
  • Digital twins are thus no longer based only on the static information of product design or engineering process, but are based directly on the same higher-level information model, which is enriched with data throughout the life cycle (from planning to operation).

Project Focus and Outcome of SDM4FZI

  • Simulation-based Optimization

    With the help of the developed digital twins (products, processes and production systems), production scenarios are automatically created, virtually analyzed and optimized. After successful testing in the simulation, the optimizations are incorporated into further production system planning (optimized setup) or are automatically imported into real production systems (optimized operation).

  • End-to-end Engineering

    In addition to the commissioning process, which is already strongly supported by simulations, further engineering processes can be simplified with digital twins. End-to-end engineering also includes the planning phase with design and project planning data, construction with cross-site and cross-company information, release (auditing and acceptance), and subsequent operation (service and maintenance).

  • Generation of Software

    SDM not only enables automated software development, but also automated testing of the generated software against digital twins. In this way, correct functionality is ensured before software components are assembled into applications or distributed to the target systems and executed.

  • Data-based Services

    Due to the continuous availability of relevant quality, process and machine data, a multitude of data-based services and business models (Servicification of Manufacturing) is now conceivable. Condition monitoring, service and maintenance management for production systems, and virtual end-of-line quality control for products are just a few examples.


The project, which has started on October 1, 2021, is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) within the framework of the funding guideline "Digitalization of Vehicle Manufacturers and Suppliers" in the program "Future Investments in Vehicle Manufacturers and Suppliers" for the implementation of Section 35c of the German government's economic stimulus package. The VDI Technology Center is supervising the project as project management organization.