Last December 2018, during the ICT Conference 2018 held in Vienna, Austria, Digicor participated in a networking session for Digital Manufacturing Platforms for Connected Smart Factories. The session brought a number of participants from the conference, interested in joining the discussion.
The session started with a recap of the European Commission vision of Factories of the Future: a collection of platforms that can inter-operate with no (or very low) barriers. This vision sees any factory connecting their production system with their suppliers' and all those along the supply chain. Consequently, a "plug and play" effect with factories emerges where production adapts to the ever-changing demands of the market.
The session introduced four running projects currently aiming to that vision: Digicor, vfOS, Nimble, and Composition. While each project is different in nature and target different markets, all of them share the common objective, one way or another, of connecting factories. Each project, after a brief introduction of what they do, presented in detail their work towards that vision and with their own application use cases.
Digicor in particular, represented by Dr. Usman Wajid, presented key innovative elements developed in the project, namely tender publishing, team formation and matchmaking, partner collaboration, distributed production planning, and governance framework for collaboration. After each project presented their innovative tools, the session was opened for questions & answers and general discussion among the participants. Among topics touched upon, the following ones drew most attention from participants:
How does Europe compare with the US in terms of connected factories?
The so-called 'war of the platforms' has seen two major fronts, business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B). On the B2C front the US has the advantage, but on the B2B front, which is the case of connected factories, Europe has the lead. However, the 'war' is still on. What Europe is still missing is a proper solid uptake from businesses and in particular manufacturer to do business using B2B platforms. This is where the four projects, but in particular Digicor, have an innovative edge that must not be ignored.
How can other projects join or participate in connected factories? Can individual people join?
All it takes is visiting the projects' websites and sending a message to an official email address appearing there. In particular for projects, there is a Coordination and Support Action supported by the European Commission, called ConnectedFactories, focused on project to project collaboration. In addition, there are two new projects in the same topic that are taking these projects' results further. Theses projects are ZDMP and eFactory. Both projects can take third party platforms into their operation plan via open calls.
Where are we heading? What's the future of connected factories?
The future is further openness for seamless integration both vertically throughout all levels of a factory, from machine and sensor level to business functions, and horizontally across supply chains. In addition to machine and business integration, the concept of 'human in the loop' will take a predominant role in the innovation agenda of European smart factories; not from the point of view of simulations and prediction, but more on social and human nature of people performing the actual manufacturing activities.