Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


FLEXINET Report Summary

Project ID: 608627
Funded under: FP7-NMP
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - FLEXINET (Intelligent Systems Configuration Services for Flexible Dynamic Global Production Networks)

Executive Summary:
Competitive manufacturing industry must be able to react to change and to understand the balance of possible options when making decisions on complex multi-faceted problems. Understanding how best to configure and re-configure a global production network, set against rapidly changing Product-Service requirements and new business opportunities is one such complex problem area. To meet these demands requires configuration design tools and methods that can deal with the complex, dynamic and transient nature of global production networks. This in turn leads to the overall aim of FLEXINET which was to enhance the ability of manufacturing organizations to rapidly and successfully re-configure their product-service global production networks through the provision of configuration design services that can intelligently evaluate the likely business and technical integration issues as production networks and new business opportunities dynamically evolve. The vision underlying FLEXINET is ‘to start with a new business idea in the morning and have all the required data and networks understood by the afternoon’.

FLEXINET has achieved its aim by working with its industrial partners from the industrial pump & valve, white goods and food & drink sectors and by exploiting the world leading expertise of its partners in Product-Service systems; complex production networks; business, economic, risk and process modelling; manufacturing ontologies; interoperability; service architectures, SME manufacturing; collaboration environments; ICT for manufacturing; and standardisation. The work has necessarily been wide ranging but has explored end user requirements and defined use cases along with novel research solutions in business modelling, cost and risk analysis and manufacturing interoperability support. This has led on to a range of specific software tools and most importantly the development of an integrated platform, all of which have subsequently been evaluated by our manufacturing partners.

FLEXINET has produced some 37 specific scientific and technological results in total, but of most overall significance is the provision of the FLEXINET platform that provides the three key capabilities needed to support rapid, effective, high quality decision-making for business innovation. These being the provision of access to the right people, access to the right information and access to appropriate analysis tools. This fundamentally important result follows from meeting the detailed results specified in the description of work and demonstrates a capability that goes well beyond currently available commercial tools in terms of its ability to be flexibly configured to capture and share knowledge across a wide range of heterogeneous decision support software applications.

This result brings a one-stop platform for the evaluation of new business ideas for products and services with an integrated business and global production perspective and what-if capabilites at value chain level addressed to innovative manufacturing companies looking forward to improving their market potential and reducing lead-time and associated costs.

FLEXINET demonstrate how this is possible, linking a collaboration environment with business modelling tools, production network configuration tools, cost and risk analysis tools, all interacting based on an underlying knowledge base which is itself designed to support interoperability across the range of supporting applications. The platform also exploits external and legacy knowledge providing a comprehensive analysis capability.

Project Context and Objectives:
Competitive manufacturing industry must be able to react to change and to understand the balance of possible options when making decisions on complex multi-faceted problems. Understanding how best to configure and re-configure a global production network, set against rapidly changing Product-Service requirements is one such complex problem area. Decisions must consider multiple existing product and service variants; multiple new products and services to embrace the implications of new technological, economic, social, environmental and political requirements; current production and service loads; as well as harmonising and synchronising production networks spread throughout the world, considering factors such as local supplier capabilities, transportation constraints, plant energy usage and production load forecasts.

To meet these demands requires configuration design tools and methods that can deal with the complex, dynamic and transient nature of global production networks. These are needed in order to respond effectively to the flexible production requirements demanded by the increasing business need for rapid Product-Service change. These requirements led to the overall aim of the FLEXINET research which was to enhance the ability of manufacturing organizations to rapidly and successfully re-configure their product-service global production networks through the provision of configuration design services that can intelligently evaluate the likely business and technical integration issues as production networks dynamically evolve.

These configuration services, adaptable to suit multiple industrial sectors, enable “what-if” comparisons of costs, risks, configuration evaluations and Product-Service compliance requirements for alternative production network designs in order to provide an understanding of the implications for the business of potential alternative production network configurations. The metaphor underlying FLEXINET is ‘to start with a new business idea in the morning and have all the required data and networks understood by the afternoon’.

FLEXINET has achieved its aim by working with its industrial partners from the industrial pump & valve, white goods and food & drink sectors and by exploiting the world leading expertise of its partners in Product-Service systems; complex production networks; business economic, risk and process modelling; manufacturing ontologies; interoperability; service architectures, SME manufacturing and collaboration; ICT for manufacturing; and standardisation.

FLEXINET has taken the view that new manufacturing business modelling methods are needed that can model business cases and identify the critical network relations that underlie the business operation. Such methods and models are essential to the ability to define both the production network knowledge that must be captured and the queries that must be made if new business configuration possibilities are to be evaluated. Product servitisation adds to the complexity of this problem as the relationships between product lifecycles and service lifecycles also need to be understood and their impact on production system networks specified within the resulting business models.

The successful re-configuration of global production networks must comply not only with business requirements but also with technical requirements. In particular, a critical technical requirement is to ensure that any potential problems in the ability of new systems to interoperate within complex, flexible, scalable and re-configurable global production networks can be clearly identified in order to ensure robust networking solutions. This is essential in minimising the substantial cost and time loss implications of introducing new systems that are incompatible with the holistic requirements of global networks. A clear understanding of the implications of change is of major importance in complex business scenarios with multiple, heterogeneous networked systems operating in a dynamic environment with on-going cost, time and quality pressures in globally competitive markets.

FLEXINET has taken the fundamental view that complex manufacturing systems which involve multiple partners with multiple technological capabilities, require a semantically rigorous formal foundation upon which to base the flexible re-configuration of manufacturing information systems networks that can meet the needs of SMEs as well as OEMs. FLEXINET is therefore focused on the exploitation of emerging ICT technologies in combination with advanced business modelling methods that can, in combination, provide a set of intelligent production network configuration services that can offer cost comparisons, risk assessments, configuration evaluations and identify the technical production network compliance requirements to meet the needs of new product-services. FLEXINET has utilised Common Logic based ontology development tools to enable the development of a formal manufacturing reference ontology.

The FLEXINET manufacturing reference ontology underlies the FLEXINET services and applications in order to provide the rigorous, formal base from which the flexible and dynamic services of the platform have been produced. It provides the underpinning semantic constraints for both the global production network knowledge bases and the manufacturing business models, ensuring a consistent understanding of the network concepts and relationships. This is considered critical for networked systems that are to be modelled from multiple business viewpoints.

FLEXINET has been committed to the belief that the best route to effective systems interoperation should be through the use of standards, as these should provide a shared basis upon which all the parties involved can develop a common understanding. Typically interoperability between existing standards themselves is not possible and hence they cannot be expected, in their current form, to support the information sharing requirements of complex multi-system networks. A further important aspect of this project has been to provide a standard formal reference ontology to support the flexible configuration of global production networks. Because this work has been based on concepts defined in Common Logic it has three important consequences: (i) new system requirements can be automatically checked for compliance against an existing configuration, (ii) new standards can be generated which cannot be inadvertently misinterpreted and hence can provide a base of confidence for effective dynamic inter-system communication (iii) The understanding gained can provide a migration path towards interoperable standards across a more broadly based manufacturing scope.

To meet the aims of FLEXINET the following objectives were defined and have been met:

Objective 1: To understand the information, material and financial flow requirements and issues for Product-Service systems in intelligent globalised production networks.

Objective 2: To provide a formal semantic and knowledge foundation from which to base the flexible re-configuration of intelligent globalised manufacturing information system networks which can meet the needs of SMEs as well as OEMs.

Objective 3: To define methods and processes, and construct FLEXINET services that can be used in the design of network configurations to support the dynamic evolution of product-service production networks.

Objective 4: To apply the FLEXINET concepts to industrial use cases and evaluate the results.

Objective 5: To exploit and disseminate the FLEXINET results to scientific and industrial organisations including standardisation bodies

Project Results:
FLEXINET scientific results:

1 Reference process for business model and GPN evaluation
Different FLEXINET services and tools developed within the project apply to different stages in the iterative, multi-step process of GPN business evaluation. To assist decision makers with selecting the right tool for new ideas/GPN business problems/questions business evaluation and assessment, a multi-step reference process is developed. The reference process consists of several steps within which ideas/problems/questions get more and more precise and realistic. There are two types of steps in the reference process: (1) design and configuration steps, which specify and develop a business idea, specify business model components and develop detailed alternative GPN designs, and (2) analysis and evaluation steps, which evaluate the new idea and GPN designs with respect to design feasibility, expected economic profitability, and/or various aspects of risk susceptibility. The three main analysis and evaluation steps are considered as quality gates for the evolving idea/GPN designs. FLEXINET provides methods and tools for each step of this process. They are either implemented in the software platform or available as functional prototypes and templates. This result extends the R1 result listed in the Description of Work (DoW), as does the following result.

2 Balanced Scorecard method including risk
A new Fuzzy Balanced Scorecard (Fuzzy BSC) is developed to assess the strategic feasibility and attractiveness of alternative GPN designs. Different node types are identified in line with the established terminology of Supply Chain Management, including R&D nodes, Sourcing nodes, Make/Production nodes, Delivery nodes, and Selling/Market-type nodes in the GPN. The list of indicators relevant to each of the node type are defined to be used in the Fuzzy BSC method. In addition to standard indicators such as R&D expenditure, level of technology export, general labor cost, cost to import, GDP etc., indicators important for risk evaluation are taken into account as well, such as risk of supplier insolvency, machine failure, data security level, risk of foreign investment barriers etc. Indicators relevant to the GPN under consideration need to be selected. A fuzzy evaluation logic is developed that enables decision makers to indicate the minimum, most likely, and the maximum scores for the selected indicators. The scores are aggregated into a final GPN score and used to compare the alternative GPN designs.

3 Framework for risk management in GPNs and uncertainty analysis
A risk evaluation method for global production networks based on a novel Fuzzy Dynamic Inoperability Input Output Model (Fuzzy DIIM) is developed. The model includes a fuzzy multi-criteria approach to determine interdependencies between nodes in GPNs using experts’ knowledge. The expert judgment on relevant risk parameters’ values, where relevant statistical data is absent, is specified in the form of linguistic values and is represented using fuzzy sets. An efficient and accurate method based on fuzzy interval calculus is proposed and included in the Fuzzy DIIM. The risk evaluation method takes into account various risk scenarios relevant to GPNs and likelihoods of their occurrences. In order to evaluate relevant risks, different forms are created, including the form for recording risk incidents, for defining risk factors, for defining risk scenarios and for specifying interdependencies between nodes in the GPN.
The model developed applied fuzzy arithmetic to track and operate with uncertainty in GPN parameters and to estimate confidence in the results obtained. The measure of ambiguity is used to measure uncertainty in the GPN parameters. Two types of analyses are carried out: (1) to examine sensitivity of the output of Fuzzy DIIM, i.e., GPN inoperability, to changes in input parameter values, including interdependencies between GPN nodes, resilience of the GPN, intended revenues and impact of disruptions, and (2) to examine sensitivity to uncertainty in the GPN’s input parameters. Different risk scenarios are defined to illustrate these analyses. The analyses provided an insight into the importance of different GPN’s parameters in the risk analysis. Furthermore, we demonstrated how to identify GPN parameters with the highest impact on GPN inoperability and its uncertainty. It is therefore important to specify these parameters with less uncertainty and to allocate more efforts to obtaining precise values of the parameters.

4 Business rules catalogue for global production networks.
This result, listed as R2 in the DoW, provides a comprehensive overview on all relevant aspects of business rules authoring from a business perspective. It provides an approach for a common rules repository based on natural language rules. The rules repository, in other terms the business rulebook, allows for explicating complex business rules.
The rulebook serves different perspectives: (1) FLEXINET business rule terminology can be documented based on a common meta model. This includes the integration of the differing usage of terms in different semantic communities. (2) Business rules that guide the valuation of innovative business models can be declared. (3) The influence of external factors on business model components can be described based on a common terminology.
In FLEXINET the implementation of the rules has been done in the knowledgebase, utilizing the FLEXINET ontology.

5 Manufacturing Reference Ontology.
This result is listed as R7 in the DoW. FLEXINET has been committed to the concept of a Manufacturing Reference Ontology that sits between a Foundation Ontology and multiple Domain Ontologies in order to facilitate interoperability between multiple domain concepts. This formal representation of the key semantic concepts, their knowledge constraints and their inter-relationships, in the context of cross-sector globalised production networks, has been developed and tested within the scope of FLEXINET. The manufacturing reference ontology includes some 600 concepts 55 constraints and 26 rules related to business development as well as technical product and supply network configuration.

It has shown that the reference ontology approach can be applied successfully and can make a significant contribution to future interoperability solutions. It has been tested through its use across some twelve software applications and used in the construction of four manufacturing knowledge bases. It is also being used in the development for a new standard for “Formal semantic models for the configuration of global production networks”.

6 Product-service-production ontologies for the food, white goods and pump manufacturing sectors respectively.
These results are listed as R4, R5 and R6 in the DoW. Ontological mappings from the reference ontology to our end user ontologies from the food, white goods and pump manufacturing sectors have been produced and provided in our work package 3 deliverables.

An interesting result with these is that, within the scope of the project, the mappings have been shown to be simple and generally applicable across sectors. This is because FLEXINET, considering strategic and tactical decisions, is concerned with relatively high level product, supplier and business concepts that are applicable to any manufacturing business.

In future work, once the scope is extended to operational decisions, there will be a need to develop ontologies that are more specific to the products and production processes being employed in the specific sectors of interest.

7. Compliance methods for global production network configuration.
This result is listed as R3 in the DoW. Compliance methods have been developed in the form of sets of queries, to support FLEXINET software services and applications. These queries interrogate the knowledge base in order to provide the specific know-how needed by the software to undertake its necessary analysis or evaluation. This has been shown as a necessary and effective link between the populated ontology and information inputs needed by the various specific software tools.

Some 74 queries have been developed to support the 12 applications produced during the project. It has been shown that the same queries and software services can be exploited by multiple applications that require the same information inputs.

8. New ontological specialisation approach applicable to systems ontologies:
An important issue in ontology development is that of re-use i.e. the development of ontologies where the maximum reuse of concepts can be envisaged. This is fundamental to maximising the potential for interoperability and knowledge sharing. An important result from FLEXINET has been the specialisation levels that have been defined within the reference ontology.

These levels start with a generic “systems” level that can be specialised suit any system and therefore provides an ontological base that goes well beyond the manufacturing business systems scope of FLEXINET. The continuation of the specialisation into “manufacturing business systems” and through to “product-service lifecycle systems” has been important to show the applicability of the approach through use case demonstrations. This has been a fundamentally important result of the project and an important input to the standardisation results of the project.

9. New methods for multiple ontology integration in trans-disciplinary decision support systems:
While reference ontologies in general and specialisation levels with a reference ontology are both significant results from FLEXINET, there is another significant result which relates to the categorisation of concepts within a reference ontology i.e. domain classifications with a reference ontology.

An important result with FLEXINET has been the identification of nine classifications of concepts, within the scope of FLEXINET, necessary to support FLEXINET applications. These are “Business”, “Project”, “Product”, “Metrics”, “Scenario”, “Indicator”, “Risk”, “Location” and “Network”. These ontologies with the reference ontology provide a basis for domain ontology development and will need to be extended as the manufacturing scope of the reference ontology is extended. The importance of the identification of this classification and its future development is again the potential for standardisation of ontologies for future use so as to provide a common ontological basis for systems development and knowledge sharing.

10 Methods to bridge strategic and tactical decision making:
The methodology to design flexible business models for production network configuration focused on bridging strategic and tactical decision-making.

From strategic decision making to tactical planning
Methods has been analysed and selected on both levels. Between strategic and tactical decisions a business modelling approach is used derived from a Business Model CANVAS and a morphologic box methodology. This allows the design of different business model alternatives using predefined elements for GPN partners and resources. The business model scenarios can be evaluated by an extended breakeven analysis. A specific business model can be configured within a user scenario. The further development is supported by a semiautomatic generation of a business process model as well as by a model fragment concept. The model fragment covers details of GPN partners, which can be further analysed within a P/T net analysis of costs and time.

The specific elements developed for this approach are:
• Modelling notation for strategic level
• Business model scenario modelling and evaluation
• Risk model fragments
• Model fragment approach
• Integrated management systems covering risk
• Contribution to FLEXINET Ontology
• Assess and quantify the business model impact
• Simulation concepts
• P/T net analysis for GPN
• Risk simulation prototype in ARENA for GPN

11 Strategic model notation: easy modelling of strategic aspects with objectives, drivers, indicators, risk elements:
The strategic model notation provides an easy modelling of strategic aspects with objectives, drivers, indicators, risk elements. The business user can quickly create an initial sketch of the business idea and related aspects such as major drivers in terms of customer values or companies’ values. This can be interrelated with risk aspects and indicators. The graphical modelling notation targets flexibility and easiness. Therefore a classification of objectives, drivers and risks can be easily done by containers surrounding the elements. Containers can be also part of a container. The relation between the elements is given by connectors. All elements are stored within an enterprise models as well as within the FLEXINET ontology. Therefore they can be further used for other modelling and analysis approaches. Moreover, a feedback from a later phase of the business and GPN design can be provided.

12. Business model morphologic box approach and business model CANVAS template to develop and monitor new business models:
The business modelling uses a BM-CANVAS template to structure business models. The drivers defined in ODIM are considered as value proposing (customer values) and revenue stream (companies’ values). Different business model scenarios can be created by the business user via the business model morphologic box approach (BM-MBV) and business model CANVAS template to develop and monitor new business models. In fact evaluation functions provides checks related to business rule conformance, breakeven analysis and an extended breakeven analysis taking into account time aspects. The business user can select from the different predefined scenarios the most appropriate parts. This creates the specific business user scenario to be used for further proposes. It is finally represented in a BM-CANVAS style.

13. Reference Model Fragment methodology incorporating library concepts for sets of fragments combined with an instantiation approach:
The business model is still a rough analysis related to the GPN. Therefore, the definition of a business process model is directly supported by FLEXINET application. The necessary elements are generated the business process model view and can be arranged by the user. Furthermore, for specific elements such as known supplier processes the details can be instantiated via the Reference Model Fragment methodology incorporating library concepts for sets of fragments. The fragments are used to store the knowledge of specific GPN partners and to accelerate the modelling process for further analyses.

14. Petrinet analysis using combined business model and model fragment approach:
The business process model is the foundation for the FLEXINET P/T net analysis which just requires the enrichment of the model with indicators of time and cost if they are not already given in the business model. Afterwards a number of tokens can be propagated through the model to provide more details about costs and especially time. The model provides the information via cost rates of resources and occupation time within processes. Distributions of tokens can be given by likelihood.

A major aspect is the balance between the effort of getting a simulation model and related data ready and the benefits from the simulation. In principle the rule is that in earlier stages of the business model development the analysis has to be simpler, easier and should require less data. Consequently these evaluations show tendencies and not final results. But they can provide further information about differences between business models and GPN alternatives for the decision makers.

15. Discrete event risk simulation :
Application of Discrete Event Simulation (DES) approach to developing a GPN simulation model at tactical level is investigated. This focuses on both economic and, in particular, risk factors, such as fluctuations in demand, machine breakdowns, accidents in the delivery of supplies, accidents in the delivery of final products and unreliability of suppliers. These uncertain parameters are modelled using adequate probability distributions. It is demonstrated how the DES models developed can be used to measure the impact of risk on GPN performance.

16. Operational Business Model Configurator.
This result is listed as R8 in the DoW. A set of models describing functional changes at network level has been addressed in three ways. Reference model fragments for supply chain partners and for specific risk aspects are elaborated. This includes an application approach of such fragments. A implementation reference guide has been developed to operationalise the workflow of the implementation of new ideas. A P/T net analysis is provided to analyse the potential impact of a GPN configuration.

17. Business Model Accelerator.
This result is listed as R9 in the DoW. This result provides procedures and reference models to design and implement innovation management structures in businesses. Therefore a notation and application has been provided to model the strategic relation between objectives, drivers, risks and indicators as well as an approach to design and evaluate different business model scenarios. This leads to value-network optimization through an improved way of deployment of business models.

18. Technology Effect Analyzer.
This result is listed as R10 in the DoW. An approach for a set of reference structures covering specific business needs such as introduction of new products in an existing business, change of manufacturing processes, introduction of new services according to a product, etc. are described. An application has been provided implementing significant parts of approach i.e. the Technology Effect Analyser (TEA) application.

FLEXINET technological results

19. The FLEXINET platform:
The totality of the FLEXINET platform is the most significant result of the project as it draws together all this elements of the project to demonstrate how our stated vision for business innovation can be supported. We argue that to start with a new business idea and to rapidly identify all the required business data and production network configurations requires a software platform that provides access to the right people, access to the right information and access to the right analysis tools. These capabilities have been demonstrated in the FLEXINET platform through an industrial showcase, listed as R14 in the DoW, that consisted of four test environments; one for each of our three end users plus one for generic use based on a fictional end user.

The views from our end-users are very positive on the FLEXINET Platform and the range of tools that have been developed. They commented specifically on the positive indication that the platform provides in terms of the value of a common knowledge base, the integration level amongst its tools, the ability to manage a wide amount of information and the way in which it supports multiple roles through the process from initial idea through to business model development, production network configuration and product service configuration. They were also impressed by the comprehensive range of support offered by the FLEXINET tools across the scope of the project.

20. FLEXINET platform interface framework:
The AESIRA platform was used to create a user interface framework that orchestrates the FLEXINET applications and their underlying services to allow end users to work across applications so that they can conduct the work flow specific to their role. It includes a customizable dashboard, responsive mobile friendly UI and an integrated security framework and associated admin tools.
The outcomes provided an intuitive interface that developed over time with end user feedback and that permitted end user testing and evaluation to be conducted in a consistent manner.

Collaboration Environment tools:
The results listed in this sub-section develop and extend the result R13 listed in the DoW.

21 Collaboration Environment:
The Collaboration Environment of Flexinet, constructed on top of the Virtual Obeya tool of Holonix, is used to support collaborative decision making, through the creation of virtual spaces (or rooms). These rooms are easily created by anyone who wants to share information with other colleagues, regardless of the time (synchronous and asynchronous access to the rooms is possible) and of the space, as anyone who is invited to enter a virtual room just need a web browser.
Within these room, it is possible to combine, with configurable layouts, any type of web-enabled tool that offers access to information required for the decision making. In particular, any FLEXINET tool with a web interface can be embedded in these virtual rooms, so that people in charge of deciding for new PSS can set up a meeting and see together the results of idea collection processes, risk assessment , business models elaboration or global production network configuration and make hypothesis and decisions on them. In particular, the Idea manager tool has been integrated into the Collaboration Environment, so that groups of concepts that need to be evaluated are selected from withinr the idea manager and directly visualised, with the possibility of voting them, into a virtual room of the Collaboration Environment.

-22. Idea Manager:
The Idea Manager allows to collect ideas for new PSS from different stakeholders and to let a community of peers voting or commenting them. Access to the tool can be offered to internal company stakeholders as weel to a wider community (made of customers, suppliers, competitors or any combination of them). An internal moderator is in charge of managing these ideas, making them visible to the community, refine their descriptions or to transform the most interesting ones into concepts that can be further elaborated, using the other FLEXINET tools, and thanks to the orchestration of the Product-Service Configurator, to become prototypes.

23. Product-Service Configurator:
This tool (shortly, PSC) is in charge of offering a unique space where companies can collect and organise the documents and analysis results that are produced during the internal validation of a new PSS concept and used to configure it. The PSC offers direct links to some of the FLEXINET tools that are used to elaborate analysis whose results are stored into the PSC. The tool is configurable, so that any company can define the macro-steps of the PSS configuration phase and the specific documents that have to be produced in each step. The PSC is integrated with the Idea Manager, so that once one or more ideas are grouped into a new concept that is approved for the next elaboration phase, such concept can be automatically imported into the PSC.

24. User experience analyser:
The UEA (User Experience Analyser) is a customisation of a reporting tool, Redmine, to collect users’ feedback and requests of support on the prototypes of new PSS that have been elaborated using the FLEXINET tools (Idea Manager, Produt-Service Configurator and other ones). This allows to create a feedback loop to collect valuable information to re-design the PSS before launching them into the market.

Business Model Development tools:
The results listed in this sub-section develop and extend the result R11 listed in the DoW.

25. Business Model Strategy, Objectives and Drivers:
The Objective, Driver, Indicator modeler (ODIM) uses the strategic modelling notation elaborated in FLEXINET to provide an application which allows business users to create a rough and quick model of their business. The model gives an initial overview of business objectives and business drivers as well as risks. It is the basis for the detailed design of a business model and provides also a monitoring how further decisions influence the objectives of a business.

26. Business model canvas development:
The Business Model - Morphologic Box View (BM-MBV) provides an application to design and analyse different business models. It uses information provided by ODIM, by the FLEXINET ontology or just created by the business user. A BM-CANVAS template has been predefined to structure the business models. But it is not restricted to BM-CANVAS other components such as risks can be defined by the business user. All elements in the BM-MBV can be enriched with properties to allow a more detailed measurement of costs, time and revenues. An extended breakeven analysis is embedded within the BM-MBV for business model evaluation. Thanks to the business rules and STEEP services also a check of GPN partners selected in the business model can be provided. This allows a fast and consistent business modelling compliant to organisational regulations.

27. Business Model Evaluation: The Business Model Evaluator application and its associated services were developed to provide a comparative tool for one or more supplier facilities within a GPN. The comparison is based upon a balanced score card engine that considers a hierarchy of factors under the main categories of financial, internal, customer and innovation. The weighting of these factors is provided by the user of the system, in line with their company’s business model objectives. The locational data for each supplier facility is then used to evaluate it against these weightings to report an overall result value that can be used to compare it against other facilities.

The outcomes of this application/service development have been that users have a tool to formalise the comparison between existing and potential supplier facilities and enable a more justifiable decision making process for designing a GPN. Importantly the results can be committed at a click of a button to the Product Service Configurator as evidence.

Risk Assessment tools:
The results listed in this sub-section also develop and extend the result R11 listed in the DoW.

28. Potential Risk Identification:
The Initial Risk Assessment Specification Application (IRASA) and its associated services were developed in order to allow existing and potential risks that could impact upon a GPN supplier facilities to be defined. Examples or risk scenarios include strike action, environmental issues such as flooding, or social issues such as political unrest. These can then be used in the risk analysis tool to enable the dependence of facilities within a GPN to be assessed.
The outcomes of this application/service development have been that it formalises the documentation of risk scenarios for users that can affect elements of their production network.

-29.The Strategic Risk Analysis Application (SRAA):
The SRAA and its associated services were developed to allow risk scenarios, specified in the IRASA application, to be evaluated against existing and potential production networks. The results, displayed graphically, highlight the dependence of one supplier facility on others in the network and therefore enabling the user to identify potential risks in GPN configurations.

The outcomes of this application/service development have been that users can analyse, in detail, the dependencies within current and potential production networks and the impact of risks. Therefore, users can make informed decisions to mitigate against those risks. Importantly the results can be committed at a click of a button to the Product Service Configurator as evidence.

30. Risk Analysis (Independent Application):
A standalone prototype of the Strategic Risk Analysis Application (SRAA), initially developed to investigate the feasibility of the underlying methods, now has the functionality described above, but can be applied independently of the FLEXINET platform, allowing evaluation of the performance of alternative GPN configurations in the face of either ad-hoc risk input or pre-defined risk scenarios. The results are largely identical to those above, displaying graphically the interdependence of GPN partners, and allowing the user to compare performance and carry out what-if analyses.

The outcomes of this application development are that user can analyse in detail the dependencies within current and potential production networks and the impacts of potential risks. Users can therefore make decisions on selection of network configurations informed by understanding of the impacts of risk, as well as other more conventional decision criteria (eg. cost, efficiency etc.), emanating from other sources.

Network configuration and analysis tools:
The results listed in this sub-section develop and extend the result R12 listed in the DoW.

31. Global production network configuration:
This tool provides the interface for the End Users to define and characterise their Production Ecosystem, including the definition of different Global Production Networks and scenarios. The input of the GPN Configurator is structured around three main concepts: processes (defined in terms of the inputs that requires, the resources it consumes, and the outputs it can produce); facilities (where different processes happen); and flows (that connect the outputs created by some process with the inputs required by some other process). All this information is stored in the Knowledge Base of the Flexinet Platform and therefore is aligned with the ontology results listed above. Compliance methods, as listed above, are defined to help the user launch some reasoning against the information of the whole Production Ecosystem. In addition, the Global Production Network Configuration tool can input its information to the knowledge base due to the reference ontology result from the project. Finally, the GPN Configurator includes a map-based visualization tool, where the user can quickly get the overall picture of the production ecosystem and navigate through the different facilities, suppliers, clients and processes around the globe.

32. Global production network technology effects analysis:
The Flexinet Platform provides a tool that, given a production network configuration, helps the end user in the process to check the feasibility of creating and delivering new products or services. The Technology Effect Analyser offers the end user a web interface to define and characterize the requirements of a new product, and based on this input, launches a reasoning process that navigates through all the production ecosystem of the company, looking for alternative network configurations that match the requirements to produce the new product. This is done is a simple 3-step process.

The result of the reasoning is a feasibility report that includes a summary of the new product/service specification along with the new Product Network Configuration(s) that best match the requirements. The study of the additional perspectives provided here can be used by other applications that form the ecosystem of Flexinet Applications.

Knowledge modelling:

33. Implemented ontology:
The reference ontology defined in FLEXINET and documented in deliverable D3.5 has been implemented in HIGHFLEET’s Integrated Ontology Development Environment and used in the project to integrate the FLEXINET software applications and generate end user knowledge bases.
The ontology has been progressively developed through interactions both with the research workpackages and with the software development workpackage in order to produce a substantial ontology implementation to support the overall FLEXINET platform integrated demonstration.

34. Four knowledge bases:
As part of the validation process for the FLEXINET platform, including the applications and the ontology, a knowledge base for each of the three end user companies was developed plus an additional knowledge base for a fictitious “Buzzbikes” company.
Each of the three end user knowledge bases was used in the related end user platform, to provide the underlying necessary decision support knowledge to support the FLEXINET applications of particular relevance to each end user. The BuzzBikes knowledge base provided an independent knowledge base that has enabled us to fully demonstrate the capabilities of the FLEXINET platform.

35. Tool to modelling existing supplier & network knowledge:
The GPN configurator tool, listed above, provides the end users with the means to enter and visualise information related to their suppliers and supplier networks. An important aspect of the GPN tool is to provide this information into the knowledge base so that it can be used by other applications. The information is stored into the knowledge base according to the ontology models integrated into the FLEXINET platform.

36. Tool to capture Ecosystem (STEEP) knowledge:
Prior to any STEEP analysis, different STEEP factors must be collected from heterogeneous data sources, then pre-processed and finally stored for later analysis. The STEEP Analyzer takes care of this, providing the functionality to get the data of a handful of STEEP factors from different sources like the World Bank, and make them available for the rest of the Flexinet Applications. It also allows the selection of a list of factors, group them to create new KPIs and rate them. The main objective of this tool is to provide clear and actionable global data that can be used in combination with business rules to support business model decisions.

37. Tool to capture business knowledge:
The Business Rules application and its associated services were developed to allow users to define rules that indicate the business threshold values related to external global factors, including economic, political, social and environmental. The threshold values defined in the business rules were then evaluated against supplier facilities and the acceptability of that facility is determined depending on the external factor values for the geographical location of the facility. Users can specify as many rules as required allowing them to reflect the business model and “opinions” of the organization’s management.
The outcomes of this application/service development have been that users have a tool to reflect management decisional values to evaluate supplier facilities. This was then exposed through a web service API so the other applications including the STEEP and Business Model Strategy, Objectives and Drivers could evaluate facilities of interest.

Potential Impact:
The potential impact

The socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project come from (i) the improved business performance that the application of the FLEXINET platform and general approach can provide for all sectors of industry and (ii) the step towards the provision of an effective semantic infrastructure that can be expanded and developed to revolutionise the ways in which future software tools are developed to support business requirements for information and knowledge sharing. These two key points are expanded in the paragraphs below.

The application of the FLEXINET platform.

This provides adopters with the ability to make rapid, more informed decisions thanks to a multi-perspective set of tools covering a wide range of roles at different stages of decision-making process. Although tightly connected, each tool is targeted at different people, playing specific roles at different stages of the process of business & product development. FLEXINET is focused on early stage decision-making, helping in the process of capturing and conceptualising new business ideas, formulate them in a coherent and standard fashion, and taking them forward by developing and evaluating different business models. FLEXINET also helps in the process of configuring and evaluating different scenarios of global production networks to find the one that best suits the new business opportunities. All the information that are necessary to complete the evaluation of a new business opportunity of a new PSS concept can be collected and shared in a common space accessible by all the stakeholders involved in the decision making process

The FLEXINET platform brings together tools that provide the three key elements needed to support rapid and effective manufacturing decision-making. These being: (a) the ability to access the right people, (b) the ability to access the right information and (c) the ability to access and exploit effective analysis tools and to make the results accessible. This combination of capability has been demonstrated at a Technology Readiness Level of TRL5 in the project. The expectation of impact when this TRL is raised to TRL8 is substantial and well aligned with our expectations of:

• Cost saving through improved decision making with an expected decrease of 40% in the cost of configuring and implementing a new production network
• Improved reactivity to customer needs through a reduction in time to market in the order of 30 - 50%
• Increased robustness of the supply network in the order of 20 – 30%

The extension of the FLEXINET approach to support operational decisions would provide an even broader level of impact on business performance, but requires further research on the infrastructure needed to provide the necessary knowledge sharing capability and the integration of the appropriate analysis tools.

The provision of an effective semantic infrastructure

The provision of an effective semantic infrastructure is a fundamental requirement for future software environments if they are to make a step change in their ability to support manufacturing decision-making. The issue of software interoperability, where information can readily be shared across software tools, is a long standing, but critical, issue. A fundamental tenet of the FLEXINET project has been that the solution to this problem requires underpinning reference ontologies that can provide a standard foundation from which industry specific solutions can be adapted. The semantic standards envisaged by FLEXINET are significantly different from existing information standards, due to the formal rigour that is imposed by the use of Common Logic based tools. These provide a rigorous, formal base from which flexible and dynamic software services can be produced and provide the underpinning semantic constraints for global production network knowledge bases and application interactions, ensuring a consistent understanding of the concepts and relationships.

The ontologies developed in FLEXINET have been achieved through the evolution of a common reference ontology that has been shown to support the information interactions between the FLEXINET range of applications and be configured to suit the knowledge needs of manufacturing end users from three distinct manufacturing sectors: pumps and valves; white goods; and food and drink. The core of this reference ontology is now being processed through the International Standards Organisation (ISO) as a new standard: ISO 20534 WD “Industrial automations systems and integration — Formal semantic models for the configuration of global production networks”. The impact from this is to provide a clear route to the development of the necessary semantic infrastructure for manufacturing industry, offering an approach that has been shown to work through the FLEXINET demonstrations and offering core elements of the necessary full solution for industry. Most importantly, this is being done with worldwide interactions through the ISO community.

In addition, clear indications of the further work that is needed have been made. Currently discussions are underway with key players in Ontology Based Engineering across Europe and North America to enhance and develop the approach to fully realise its highly significant impact.

Main Project Dissemination
FLEXINET has been proactive in the dissemination of project results, not only exploiting the normal routes of dissemination through academic conferences and journals, but actively organizing academic and industrial workshops, organizing and running an IMS project, contributing to multi-project workshops and organizing a new project cluster. These dissemination activities were also supported through the use of a web site, regular newsletters, press releases and the use of social media by some of our partners. The main dissemination activities of the project are detailed in the sub-sections below.
Papers and workshops
It is envisaged that 9 papers in high quality journals will emerge from the FLEXINET project. Additionally 12 other peer-reviewed papers have appeared in fully referenced conference proceedings, with others to follow. Over 100 other dissemination activities have also been undertaken in the project mainly through oral presentations, exhibitions and press releases. Of these some 10 workshops have been organised by project partners to discuss a range of academic, industrial and cross-project cluster issues.

A Manufacturing Technology Platform concerning Key Technologies was established under IMS entitled Configuration Services for Global Production Networks (CSGPN). This project included FLEXINET EU partners as well as partners from Mexico and the US, in order to meet the IMS three region requirements. The goal of the IMS MTP CSGPN was to develop and exchange knowledge and best practices related to enhancing the ability of manufacturing organisations to rapidly and successfully re-configure their product-service global production networks through the provision of configuration design services that can intelligently evaluate the likely business and technical integration issues as production networks dynamically evolve.
FLEXINET has been represented at IMS events through:
• IMS Workshop on Sustainable Manufacturing (November 2013);
• Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) Manufacturing Technology Platform workshop (February 2014).
• World Manufacturing Forum (July 2014)
• World Manufacturing Forum (May 2016)
In addition, the international dissemination through IMS has supported our ability to develop relationship with NIST in the USA concerning the standardisation of reference ontologies and the dissemination of our Common Logic based approach. FLEXINET has also interacted with the S.Korean and Japanese standardisation community in relation to our reference ontology activities.

Clustering and related activities
FLEXINET partners have been involved in various cluster related workshops with other EU projects. These include workshops with the MSEE project related to instruments and methodologies for servitisation of products, workshops with various projects concerned with Ontology Based Engineering and with Manufacturing Enterprise Interoperability. These workshops have involved interactions with LinkedDesign, Virtual Factory Framework (VFF), MSEE, IMAGINE, FALCON, ROAD4FAME, PREMANUS, FITMAN, ADVENTURE, CAPP-4-SMEs

Perhaps most importantly, in relation to working with other EU FoF projects, has been the formation of the Resilient Production Networks Cluster along with the RobustPlanet, MANSYS and subsequently the new CREMA project. This has led to a number of discussions across the projects and especially to a key academic workshop in ICT2015 and a key industrial workshops at the Hannover Messe 2016, as described in the next sub-sections.
Close to the end of the project, the FLEXINET results have been presented at Industrial Technologies 2016 (june 2016 – Amsterdam).

A Workshop entitled “Resilient Production Networks Cluster” was held during the ICT2015 Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. The workshop, run as a knowledge café, discussed 4 topic areas relating to the issues surrounding resilient Production Networks, including (i) key characteristics, (ii) industrial importance, (iii) technological issues and (iv) the outcomes that might be expected from a cluster of interested research projects, organisations and individuals.
The workshop was attracted a large and enthusiastic group of participants and results, captured with support from partners in founding projects of the Resilient Production Networks Cluster of EU FP7 and H2020 projects, extended over a wide range of relevant issues. These results were later reported and discussed at the I-ESA 2016 workshop in Resilient Production Networks and will be published through the related proceedings in due course.

Hannover Messe 2016
The Resilient Production Networks cluster maximized the value of their interactions by presenting the results of FLEXINET, RobustPlanet and CREMA at the Hannover Messe in April 2016. FLEXINET was able to demonstrate the FLEXINET platform, based on the fictitious BuzzBikes Business Innovation showcase.

This demonstration allowed us to present our approach to capturing new business ideas through our Idea Management and Product-Service Configuration applications; our approach to clarifying business opportunities through Business Strategy & Objectives, Business Model Canvas and Business Model Evaluation applications; and our approach to the configuration and evaluation of alternative production and risk scenarios through the use of Production Network Configuration tools, Production Network Analysis and Risk Analysis applications.
As a result, in combination with the other project presentations, we were able to present a very comprehensive view of existing research solutions which drive strongly towards resilience in production networks.

The Manufuture conference has been an important dissemination event for FLEXINET, presenting a poster early in the project history in November 2013 as well as posters and formal presentations in November 2015. The presentations in 2015 targeted a global value chains and also standardisation enabled us to contribute to the aims of Manufacture in addressing topics of strategic importance for future challenges of the manufacturing industry and develop recommendations for national and European policy makers.

Main Project Exploitation
The project has taken advantage of two Exploitation Strategy Seminars to help focus attention onto the most significant elements for exploitation by the partners. This resulted in three areas being identified for exploitation:
1. A platform of services supporting rapid decision making for tactical and strategic levels for a global network, now called the FLEXINET platform.
2. New methods and models to help businesses understand the complexity of global production networks and the potential impacts of change.
3. Reference ontologies that can be standardised.

The first of these three areas has probably the most potential for commercial exploitation. A business plan has been developed to aid the exploitation of the FLEXINET Platform. This plan comprises two particularly important aspects: (i) a business plan assuming the FLEXINET platform has reached TRL8 and (ii) a plan, that will be in charge of raising the technology readiness level from its current TRL5 up to TRL8. A major issue for the consortium has been how to best support the achievement of this jump in technology readiness. The partners are now well advanced towards agreeing the development of a Community Group within the INTEROP-VLab as an effective route to achieve this end. Further detail is provided on this in the related sub-sections below

The second exploitation area above related to new methods and models, falls partly within the FLEXINET platform exploitation and partly within exploitation by individual partners. Finally, the project has made significant exploitation progress in terms of its contribution to international standards with the on-going development of ISO 20534 “Industrial automations systems and integration — Formal semantic models for the configuration of global production networks”. Again, further details are provided in the sub-sections below.

Business Plan for the FLEXINET Platform
The business plan identified a clear pitch for exploitation highlighting the FLEXINET vision for business innovation as “Can you start with a new business idea in the morning and have all your required business data and production networks identified by the afternoon?”
Following this with a description of the FLEXINET Platform product and its market as:
FLEXINET brings a one-stop platform for the accelerated management of business opportunties for products and services with an integrated business and global production perspective and what-if capabilites addressed to innovative manufacturing companies looking forward to improving their market potential, lead-time, associated costs and risk management.

The general benefits of using the FLEXINET platform were identified as being:
- Rapid reaction to new business ideas, to improve chances of beating competition by being more innovative
- Understand product/service change implications and global complexity challenges
- Effective response to factors driving global production network change
- Provide a standardised interface to enable the federation of existing applications of the company via the FLEXINET knowledge base
With additional specific benefits as:
- The use of historical data to get early measurable results for business models and to have model templates to accelerate the modelling process.
- The idea management integrated in FLEXINET platform shows functionalities to have the information about an idea persistently stored, contributing to increase the rate of success for future ideas.
- The integrated approach from idea management to business innovation is of benefit for companies in gaining a more complete understanding of their innovation and production networks configuration.

It was identified that there is no direct commercial competition to the FLEXINET Platform. No other platforms provide the combination of idea collection tools, collaboration tools and analysis tools all integrated through an effective intelligent knowledge based environment. Commercial tools that offer some support in this direction fall short either because they have limited capability in terms of modelling semantic complexity or they offer full first order logic capability but without any ontological foundation. While there are competitive collaboration and analysis tools, none of these exploits Artificial Intelligence, as in our Highfleet partner’s toolkit, to provide an effective cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing solution.

In addition the business plan detailed the advantages of FLEXINET, provided a SWOT analysis, a sales strategy and a financial analysis that brings the business into profit by year three. This does, however, assume a product that is at a commercial technology readiness level, as opposed to the current TRL5 of the platform.

Plan for the development of a Community Group
The development of the FLEXINET platform from its current TRL5 to TRL8 is being actively explored through the generation of a community group within the Interop-Vlab . The Interop-VLab (“International Virtual Laboratory for Enterprise Interoperability” is a non-profit research oriented association which has a virtual and distributed nature. It was created with the aim to aggregate existing and future laboratories in the field of Enterprise Interoperability. The Interop-VLab is composed of 9 regional “poles” that pull together SMEs, academia, industrial partners, and research organizations. Their activity is based on the integration of three key thematic components: information and communication technologies (ICT), enterprise modelling, and ontologies.

Many of the FLEXINET partners and all of the ICT development partners of FLEXINET are existing members of the Interop-Vlab and already contribute to an internal Interop-VLab group on Manufacturing Enterprise Interoperability. We are therefore well placed to interact with the Interop-VLab organisation in order to develop and agree a business plan for the FLEXINET Community Group. The exploiting partners are currently in the process of negotiation with Interop-VLab to create the community group and a draft plan has already been produced. This needs to be finalised and agreed by partners and ratified by an Extraordinary General Assembly of Interop-VLab.

The goal of the CG is to continue development of software assets arising from the FLEXINET project. This development will be directed towards the realisation of commercially exploitable implementations of these software assets and maintaining the platform to ensure that it can be exploitable by others in the research scope.

Specific partner exploitation activities
Each partner in the consortium has gained value from the new understanding achieved in the project. Our end user partners see the potential of the FLEXINET Platform and the range of tools that have been developed. They comment specifically on the positive indication that the platform provides in terms of the value of a common knowledge base, the integration level amongst its tools, the ability to manage a wide amount of information and the way in which it supports multiple roles through the process from initial idea through to business model development, production network configuration and product service configuration.
The academic partners will exploit their new understanding to contribute to future leading edge research programmes, to enhance the reputation of their organisations and to continue to develop their training and consultancy capabilities with industry, as well as in undergraduate and post-graduate teaching. Coventry University, in particular is exploring ways of creating an Open Source community on the standalone risk analysis software produced during the project.
Our software partners each have specific aims to use their new understanding to advance their capability, to produce new software offers and/or to contribute to new research projects. IPK already have a national research project that will gain from their activity in FLEXINET. Control2K see the potential to exploit their understanding from FLEXINET in a new EU FoF project, DIGICOR, due to start in October 2016. Holonix sees in FLEXINET a very valuable opportunity for developing and validating solutions supporting manufacturing companies in eliciting, managing and taking decisions related to new Product/Services they want to launch on the market. These new competences and expertise, together with the software results that Holonix have implemented, will be finally included in the commercial offer that Holonix provides to the market. Moreover Holonix is exploiting the process competences and the tools developed in FLEXINET within the FOF FALCON project, aimed at using Lifecycle data to support the design of new PSS.

Contribution to International Standards
The FLEXINET standardisation activity has focused on the product-service production reference ontologies that have been identified as the most significant aspect of the project to be targeted for standardisation. This has led to the agreement within ISO TC184 SC4 to develop a new standard.
We believe that the current status of ISO 20534 WD “Industrial automation systems and integration — Formal semantic models for the configuration of global production networks”, which is now out for ballot to move to the next stage of the standardisation process, is a major exploitation result for the project. It provides, along with the other aspects of the FLEXINET reference ontology not taken forward for standardisation, an important contribution towards the necessary future development of reference ontologies for manufacture.

List of Websites:

Project Coordinator contact: Prof Bob Young - email

Related information

Documents and Publications


Christopher Malins, (Grants and Contracts Officer)
Tel.: +44 1509 222421
Record Number: 191914 / Last updated on: 2016-11-15
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