Social Sustainability for the Factory of the Future by Valentijn de Leeuw in the ARC Insights of February 2013
Manufacturing is the second largest sector within the non-financial sector in the EU, accounting for 23 percent of employment and 25 percent of the added value of the sector. Since manufacturing is considered a key enabler for the European economy, the EU has decided to start funding a research topic on social sustainability in manufacturing.
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Tool-cutting process project coordinator explains why EU-wide research was the key to success
Only by bringing together expertise from nine different EU member states were industrial and academic partners able to develop a generic adaptive system for manufacturing processes to make European industry more efficient, competitive and environmentally friendly, explains ADACOM project coordinator Drazen Veselovac from the University of Aachen.
A dozen industrial and academic partners specialised in advanced tool-cutting processes came together in 2008 under the European Commission-funded project ADACOM (Adaptive Control for Metal Cutting). They had identified the biggest challenge for the industry in Europe: competition; their goal was to develop a generic adaptive system to boost efficiency, strengthening Europe’s industry against its rivals.
The adaptive system would take account of changing circumstances in the production process such as increases in temperature, wear and tear on components and variations in surface integrity. To achieve this is crucial to automation, which Veselovac explains is a ‘key aspect’ to make products more efficient and thus more competitive on the global market.
Aside from the competitive advantage, developing such a system would also provide for environmental benefits. ‘Due to the use of adaptive systems in production in Europe and anywhere else in the world, scrap will be reduced, the life time of production systems will be enhanced and resources like water, electricity and raw materials will be used more efficiently.’
Europe-wide approach crucial
To bring together the necessary knowledge and expertise to build a generic system that could be of benefit to industry across Europe and beyond, the project had to be conducted on a European scale.
‘This topic needed different kinds of expertise from all over Europe on the industrial but also on the scientific level. A single country would not have all the required competences and as such, this was the only solution for a project such as this. Only the collaboration of specialists from all over Europe in this very advanced field of manufacturing technology has given us the possibility to carry out such work.’
Without this richness of expertise, Veselovac says the project would also not have attracted leading industrial players such as automobile group Daimler, industrial group Bosch, printing machine producer Heidelberg AG, and car group Fiat who have played such a crucial role in the development of ADACOM. ‘Attempting to carry out such a project on a national level would not have led to any investment at all as the spectrum of necessary competences is not available in a single country."
ADACOM in action
From the outset, the purpose of ADACOM was to develop a system in conjunction with industrial partners, addressing their particular needs. For example, Lola Composites – a supplier of advanced composites to the aerospace, defence, communications, automotive and marine sectors – needed to identify a milling strategy that would produce the optimal surface finish while preventing burning.
The carbon fibre polymer composites it uses to make products such as aerospace components and wind turbines is exposed to extreme temperatures during the milling process. ADACOM developed an adaptation strategy that would deliver near-real time temperature information, thereby preventing over-heating and damage to tools.
In the case of the DIAD group, a consultancy that develops life cycle approaches to the design of components, ADACOM applied clean and sustainable production techniques and established methodologies to evaluate the cost effectiveness and environmental impact of production in the manufacture of aerospace components where surface integrity is of major importance.
Bringing industry and academia together from the start in so-called ‘demonstrator working groups’ has been key to the success of ADACOM and allowed for what Veselovac describes as ‘an extremely intensive exchange of data, knowledge and expertise.’
‘Within ADACOM, server-based systems – working all over Europe – have been used to generate data from the production sites belonging to the industrial partners. The academic partners have then been able to analyse these data and have had the chance to run trials in the production lines of the industrial partners, thus allowing them access to the best data to develop the adaptive systems."
The industrial end-users of ADACOM are now busy finding ways to integrate the generic approach of adaptation strategies into their commercial systems. According to Veselovac, partners in the project like Bosch and Heidelberg AG are asking companies like Siemens to implement the developments in their own systems as well.
One unexpected impact was that ADACOM has also stoked interest from the global aerospace sector. Large manufacturers, including GE, Pratt & Whitney, Honeywell and Rolls Royce, are planning to adopt the system in the production of critical engine components.
In addition, ADACOM could well lead to the development of global standards in adaptive processing. The United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have shown interest in the technology and may use it to establish a system within the next five years, according to Veselovac.
For existing and potential users of ADACOM, Veselovac and his team also envisage the development of a cyber-physical system (where computational and physical elements are combined and coordinated). Technologies developed in Europe on the back of ADACOM can be shared globally with the use of application software and cloud computing.
‘ADACOM has shown the need to develop new embedded systems and world-wide connected embedded systems in production environments. These will ensure the collection of global production data,’ Veselovac concludes.
European industry faces a trio of challenges: firstly, thanks to round-the-clock media coverage, citizens are increasingly aware of safety risks and rightly demand that business leaders are held to account; secondly, industrial plants in Europe are ageing; and lastly, new challenges are emerging such as the threat of climate change to industrial structures.
Since the effects of industrial disasters – such as toxic gas clouds or waterborne pollution – are rarely contained within one state’s borders, there is also an increasing drive within the EU to develop industrial policy on a Europe-wide scale. This obliges representatives of industry to coordinate with their counterparts as well as authorities in other Member States and this coordination requires some form of common system.
Enter IRIS – the Integrated European Industrial Risk Reduction System. Developed by a consortium of 40 partners from across the world, including European industrial giants DoW Chemical Europe, EDF, BBT, EGNATIA, Cuprum and RWE, IRIS is essentially an IT platform that gathers information from a range of sources.
‘So far the information we have concerning safety and security situations is very fragmented and held by very different sources. The IT platform helps us see how things influence each other,’ explains Dr Helmut Wenzel, project coordinator at Vienna Consulting Engineers (VCE) – a firm which specialises in the transport, construction and industrial infrastructure sectors.
As well as an IT platform, IRIS uses satellite images: ‘The images are used to understand a safety or security situation so that we can update our risk assessment and steer our resources accordingly,’ says Wenzel.
An additional feature of IRIS is a degradation law that industry can use to assess the condition of a particular piece of infrastructure. ‘This helps us to identify the initial problem areas to see where we have to upgrade infrastructure. IRIS can predict where retrofitting needs to be carried out and where the ageing curve comes close to the warning level. This is important because governments everywhere are facing shrinking budgets,’ says Wenzel.
IRIS in action
To put IRIS through its paces, the team headed to Hungary in the aftermath of an earthquake in 2011. Although not a hotspot for seismic activity, Hungary sees its fair share of quakes of sizeable magnitude (values of up to 6.5 on the Richter scale have been recorded), notably in the Danube region where there are many settlements, infrastructure facilities and industrial plants.
‘The earthquake damaged tanks containing toxic gases. By using satellite images, we were able to simulate the toxic cloud and see where it was,’ said Wenzel. ‘The earthquake also damaged bridges. This restricted the movement of civil forces,’ he adds, explaining that IRIS's IT platform provided a comprehensive overview of the situation, showing rescue workers where they could and could not go.
Natural disasters are of growing concern. The earthquake and consequent tsunami that caused the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan is just one of many examples of the dangers we are faced with. As climate change becomes increasingly apparent – take Hurricane Sandy's dramatic impact on New York for example – industry faces a mounting battle to maintain structures capable of weathering any storm.
Wenzel cites the following example: ‘On the Atlantic coast we are facing more and more storms of increased intensity. IRIS allows us to make assessments to find the real capacity of the structures. This is one of the pillars of IRIS. We can say whether your plant is fit to cope with climate change or not.’
Crucial to the development of IRIS was the contribution to the project – which received funding under the EU's Seventh Framework Research Programme of EUR 8.5 million – made by actors from across Europe. ‘It is not possible to create such a system on a national level. We involved about 300 researchers and we needed this expertise from all over Europe,’ explains Wenzel.
He adds that this collaboration worked particularly well in the case of IRIS as researchers were motivated by early progress, a small executive board and proactive management. ‘This project was by far the easiest from an administrative point of view because when you have good results early on, everyone is happy. We also made a strategic plan and it was very good to have some targets.’
As well as encouraging early results, the prospects for IRIS are promising. Aside from generating significant interest in Europe, where the German, Dutch and Austrian governments are using IRIS to determine where retrofitting of highways needs to take place, the US government's Federal Highway Agency is considering employing IRIS to assess some 600 000 bridges.
The degradation law, elementary for such assessments, is also on its way to becoming a global standard. It has been submitted to the standardisation process of a CEN-workshop and is expected to be used in the upcoming revision of Eurocodes. ‘The entire world is working on this but we are the first with a curve that is under consideration by the standards committee.’
IRIS has generated unexpectedly high amounts of private investment and commercial interest. ‘We are already working with the methodology in various projects commercially; IRIS could be immediately turned into a promising business venture. A lot of foreign researchers are approaching us and I'm sure that more will come.’ IRIS website
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