European assembly ‘depots’ to combat outsourcing
Expediting and reducing the cost of the assembly process by creating a European-wide network of micro-assembly depots offering modular ultra-precision assembly services on demand was the goal of the ambitious ‘Evolvable ultra-precision assembly systems’ (Eupass) project. Specifically, the project team set out to develop depots throughout Europe of micro-assembly modules, novel micro-joining techniques and integration software to support rapid and cost-effective configuration and delivery of flexible precision assembly systems. Given the ground-breaking nature of the project, extensive research and planning was required not only regarding the technologies and infrastructure but also to ensure evolvability of the sustainable, fault-tolerant, cost-effective assembly systems. Continuous monitoring of opportunities and roadblocks enabled formulation of a strategic and evolving roadmap for development and implementation of ideas. Having evaluated support, cost and sustainability as well as state-of-the-art and emerging modular plug and produce devices, final work focused on current standards and standards development as well as exploitation efforts. Regarding the latter, project members focused on system integration and systems-to-services integration. Specifically, the team identified the need to offer easy-to-use services guaranteeing minimal implementation requirements, programming knowledge and system maintenance knowledge on the part of end users. To this end, development of web-based services providing standards, interfaces and architectural guidelines would be critical. Researchers also sought to decrease integration costs by half. Finally, the education of system suppliers and integrators was identified as key to successful adoption of the ambitious programme in order to demonstrate that providing turnkey systems, or those that are complete and ready to operate, limits potential markets and creates detrimental competition. Eupass has laid the foundation for a European infrastructure of evolvable assembly systems that has the potential to reverse the outsourcing that has so adversely affected European manufacturing.