Factory operators are always looking to increase efficiency and production. Once, the personal knowledge of factory workers might have been key to improvements. Today, it is uncommon for any single person to know the complete picture, since processes are often distributed internationally and require integration with many suppliers. Manually communicating with all parties concerning the establishment of supply chains, and production processes, is very time-consuming and difficult. Thus, factories need dedicated information systems that accelerate and automate such communications across the whole operation.
Integrated information management system
The EU-funded COMPOSITION project developed a new integrated information management system (IIMS). It simplifies many miscellaneous tasks, including optimising production and allowing rapid adaptation to changing market conditions. The system incorporates existing factory information tools. The project also developed a network supporting the exchange of data among factories and suppliers, which will facilitate entry into supply chains. One key illustration of the system is its marketplace. This is a technical ecosystem in which clients can post requests for what they need, for which suppliers can then bid. The marketplace software automatically handles the negotiation process and presents the client with a ranked list of suppliers able to fill the request. The client can then select any supplier from the list. “This mechanism opens new opportunities for companies to get in contact, which would not be possible without this technology,” says project coordinator Marc Jentsch. “This is especially interesting for smaller companies which otherwise would have trouble finding new customers.”
Maintenance and other applications
A second aspect of the system is a predictive maintenance application for two pilot partners. Prior to development of the tool, both these partners operated machines that were maintained according to a fixed but suboptimal schedule. Maintenance generally took place too early, because that is preferable to it being initiated too late. COMPOSITION researchers developed sensors that monitor the machines. Data from the sensors, plus existing shop-floor data, yielded an optimal maintenance schedule. The team provided eight different applications, used within six different use cases by project partners. Most partners use the IIMS system to improve minor details in established processes. For example, in one case, sensors are attached to shop-floor equipment to locate lost items; in another, recycling bins are monitored and indicate when they need emptying. Big Data projects are currently very popular. However, a little-known challenge is that, prior to beginning any work, teams must obtain suitable data sets. “Accordingly, we had problems reliably gathering data,” says Jentsch. “Then there were not enough error cases in the data set for the algorithms to learn something.” The team addressed this by letting data analytics experts and pilot partners work together so each could contribute their domain knowledge to enable the algorithms to detect trends. All applications will be continued, and several will be extended. The team also plans a further five joint exploitation activities. The results from COMPOSITION will combine with those of three other EU-funded projects, DIGICOR, NIMBLE and vf-OS. The project translated several very complicated technologies into practical, real-world applications. These will help manufacturers coordinate and optimise all aspects of their operations.
COMPOSITION, factory, production, information system, supply chain, information management system, IIMS, marketplace, communications, negotiation