Automated negotiation



Gerd Neudecker

Kromberg & Schubert Automotive GmbH & Co. KG

Head of Business Process Management

Automated negotiation processes

How does it sound when Asset Administration Shells negotiate? Machine communication resembles the basic structure of human communication. An instruction, request, or task is formulated, which can be transmitted from a supervisor to a worker or from machine to machine. This leads to an action by the recipient. When a machine is involved, it may not result in an extensive exchange of opinions, but it still involves the transfer of information, albeit in machine language. To address machines, the so-called Industry 4.0 language is required. An essential component of any language is words, and in this context, it is crucial that these words are machine-readable.

Objectives of the Subproject

Subproject 6 focuses on the interaction ("negotiation") of the Asset Administration Shells of various components, including those of production resources and processes. They autonomously establish contact with each other and coordinate cooperative tasks. This means that the proactive Asset Administration Shells initiate interactions with other Industry 4.0 components. The goal of Subproject 6 is to demonstrate concrete examples of how negotiation can be practically implemented.

Work Focus

Crucial for achieving autonomous and automated collaboration are the negotiation processes that occur both in the interfaces of the Asset Administration Shell of a component, such as a connector, and later in negotiations with a crimping machine or automated processing during assembly. Proactive Asset Administration Shells are at the core of SP6. This means that one of the Asset Administration Shells initiates an interaction and uses interaction protocols, the Industry 4.0 language, to communicate and negotiate with other Asset Administration Shells. The structure of the messages to be exchanged is fundamentally defined, upon which SP6 builds. Requirements are refined and transferred to the wire harness. The interaction protocols' collaboration with specific Asset Administration Shells needs to be clarified. At certain points, the software agents, i.e., the Asset Administration Shells negotiating with each other, must make decisions. For instance, on the side of the customer, factors like the best price, earliest delivery time, and CO2 footprint are relevant, while the supplier prioritizes technical feasibility, material availability, and cost-effectiveness. These decision algorithms or price calculation algorithms for the offer must be implemented in software in some form. It is also crucial to provide humans with insight into the ongoing negotiation process at all times.

Work Status

To coordinate with other subprojects, such as SP3, several meetings have already taken place. SP6 started in December 2022. To simulate automated negotiation processes effectively, initial negotiation scenarios were outlined. Among the possible scenarios for the tendering of a semi-finished product, a twisted pair of wires was chosen as a purchased part. This involves a Tier 1 supplier (automotive supplier) extracting a small twisted pair from a complete wire harness, designating it as a purchased part, and ordering it from a supplier (Tier 2) in a cross-company process. Subsequently, the order for the semi-finished product must identify suitable production resources. The project team has incorporated aspects that offer some room for negotiation. For example, the twisted pair could be produced in two steps by two different production resources. One machine could cut and terminate the two individual wires to the intended length, while another machine could twist the wires. On the other hand, there are machines that can perform both operations in a single step. Additionally, the installation of the twist protection is only partially automated in practice and often done manually. These are precisely the aspects that provide negotiation potential and are suitable for testing.

Back to the twisted pair scenario: The same semi-finished product now appears in a second scenario. A negotiation process is to be carried out involving the Asset Administration Shell, its semi-finished product instance, and the Asset Administration Shells of potential production resources. This allows the assignment of a production order to a specific production resource. The task of SP6 is to consider how such an active Asset Administration Shell, required for the negotiation processes, can be technically realized. For this purpose, the active parts of the Asset Administration Shell will be modeled as BPMN workflows - that is, workflow models that proactively respond to incoming messages and take action. SP6 also deals with "Capabilities." This refers to standardized descriptions of capabilities: what the machine must be able to perform or what functionality it can offer.

Next Steps

One aspect is addressing Capabilities and how they can be represented in the Asset Administration Shell. The goal is to build concrete Asset Administration Shells based on the example of the wire harness. The project team is supported by ifak (Institute for Automation and Communication) from Magdeburg for the modeling of the capabilities.

The second step revolves around technical aspects: connecting the active Asset Administration Shell to other Asset Administration Shells and the "outside world."

Working with ECLASS: The Industry 4.0 language has a basic vocabulary that needs to be expanded with wire harness-specific definitions. ECLASS standards will be used, which contains the technical terminology of the wire harness domain and enables standardized communication between systems.

Expected Results

For the implementation of the active Asset Administration Shell, the active components will be represented as event- and message-driven processes (BPMN workflows). Moreover, negotiation processes can be defined and executed. A comprehensive negotiation concept will be available, enabling automated decision-making based on data and information, as well as generating workflows or strategies.