Researchers join €8m project to help SMEs adopt cloud-networked manufacturing

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham is part of a new €8m initiative to drive cloud-based on-demand manufacturing among small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Europe.

The EU-funded, Horizon 2020 initiative, called DIGITbrain, will give SMEs easy access to digital twins – a virtual model of a product, process or service in a manufacturing machine, line or plant.

Digital twins use data analysis and simulation to monitor systems to control production quality and optimise performance, before problems can occur, thereby reducing costs.

DIGITbrain aims to take the digital twin concept a step further – developing a ‘Digital Product Brain’ which will store data throughout the entire life cycle of a production line or a machine.

By collecting all this data, it will be possible to customise and set-up machines and / or production assets for very specific manufacturing tasks, whenever needed.

Manufacturers need lots of standard and specialised equipment to get products out the door. This is a serious amount of overhead and investment burden for an entrepreneur or small company.

DIGITbrain will give SMEs the means to work to a new AI-based production model, called Manufacturing-as-a-Service (MaaS). MaaS is a way to distribute and share the functions that are most critical in manufacturing today and lowers barriers of entry for companies.

MaaS allows them to use a third party’s infrastructure to turn their concept into a reality. Doing this saves considerable investment expenses, as well as the cost of labour, maintenance and upgrades. It also helps us use resources more effectively, as services in the cloud. MaaS also allows for on-demand manufacture of much more specialised products, even in smaller quantities and still in a profitable way.

The role of Nottingham’s researchers is to implement human factors methodology and ensure that DIGITbrain technology is appropriate, usable, efficient and effective. Dr Setia Hermawati, a research fellow in the Human Factors Research Group and Dr Glyn Lawson, an associate professor from the Mechanical, Material and Manufacturing Department, are the main investigators for this project.

“Manufacturing SMEs and mid-caps are the ultimate beneficiaries of the DIGITbrain solution. It will enable them to rapidly configure, deploy, execute and exploit digital twins and allow them to directly benefit from Industry 4.0 technologies.”

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