The World and manufacturing companies are facing the fourth industrial revolution based on ICT. Traditional factories will increasingly be transformed into smart digital manufacturing environments. Currently, the full potential for ICT in manufacturing is far from being fully exploited. Factories are complex systems of systems and there is a need to develop a platform on which future manufacturing applications can be built. Europe should achieve leadership in digital platforms for industry on which value is created (e.g. embedded operating systems, autonomous systems building blocks, cloud platforms, data, security, openness, interoperability, etc.).
Over the last decades, manufacturing companies have been implementing point-solutions each bringing a specific feature or fixing a specific issue. Resulting from this approach is a highly heterogeneous manufacturing IT landscape. These are already costly to administer, and the further addition of capabilities become even more costly. There is thus a need for a homogeneous manufacturing IT landscape offering manufacturing IT solutions to support manufacturing companies, especially SMEs, to successfully respond to the challenges. Allowing them to be flexible and offer highly customised products, without daunting implementation costs, and thereby maintaining and boosting their competitiveness locally in the increasingly globalised markets SMEs participate in.
The goal of the vf-OS Project has been to develop such an Open Operating System for Virtual Factories, composed of a Virtual Factory System Kernel, a Virtual Factory Application Programming Interface, and Virtual Factory Middleware. An Open Applications Development Kit has been provided to software developers for deploying Smart Manufacturing Applications (vApps) for industrial users, using the vf-OS Manufacturing Applications Store to purchase vApps and modules and its Virtual Factory Platform to execute these vApps.
The Virtual Factory Platform is a multi-sided market platform with the aim of creating value by enabling interactions between four customer groups:
Software Developers (independent or within individual manufacturers) which build Manufacturing Apps either through innovation or from manufacturing user demand
Manufacturing Users which explore the marketplace for already created solutions, ready to be run on the vf-OS
ICT Providers which provide ICT interfaces and manufacturing connections
Service Providers (vf-OS innovators and third parties) provide services (hosting, storage, connected cloud services, etc.) including those based on developed solutions.
vf-OS aims to become a reference system software for managing factory related computer hardware and software resources and providing common services for factory computational programs. This operating system is the component of the system software in a physical factory system where all factory application programs will run. This includes full management through virtualisation of the whole factory and related supply networks, including time-sharing schedule tasks for efficient use of the system. The Service Providers, as managers of the Virtual Factory Platform and the Manufacturing Applications Store, guarantee the quality of the Manufacturing Smart Applications and define a clear revenue business model for the complementors.
vf-OS Platform provides a range of services to the connected factory of the future to integrate better manufacturing and logistics processes. The Manufacturing Applications Store (vf-Store) is open to software developers who, using the free Open Applications Development Kit provided, are able to quickly develop and deploy smart applications to enable and optimise communication and collaboration among supply networks of all manufacturing sectors in all the stages manufacturing and logistic processes: demand forecast, planning, supply, manufacturing, distribution, storage, and replacement / recycling.
vf-OS is an Open Framework able to manage the overall network of a collaborative manufacturing environment that enables humans, applications, and devices to seamlessly communicate and interoperate in the interconnected operative environment. vf-OS provides a set of Open Services instantiated at the vf-OS Platform that moves from the device-centric to the user-centric paradigm. It implements a multi-sided market exploitation strategy, with a clear value proposition to manufacturers, machine and device providers, logistic operators, and end users.
vf-OS proposed an Open Platform, linked by strong network externalities and exploiting advanced ICT (ie, CPS, IoT, Cloud-models, M2M, security by design, etc), fulfilling the actual need on the market for open services for interoperability based on data exchange.
For hardware functions such as factory’s input and output and resources allocation, the operating system functions as an intermediary between the application behaviour of the factory and the factory hardware itself. This enables the application factory functionalities and services to be virtualised or executed directly by the hardware, allowing system calls to the OS function to appropriately manage the manufacturing requirements.
As a summary, vf-OS has obtained the following results, both scientific and technical:
Developed the vf-OS components by:
Developing a bridge between vf-OS and enablers within the EU Future Internet flagships projects - FIWARE and FITMAN, namely the vf-OS Enablers Framework
Developing vf-OS Enablers extending functionality not covered by either FIWARE or FITMAN
Developing a set of design-time tools, namely: Process Designer, IO Toolkit, Data Harmonisation, Data Analytics, SDK, Studio, and Frontend Environment
Developing an execution environment to host all vf-OS components needed to execute vApps, namely: Platform, Process Execution, Data Storage, Security, Messaging, Pub/Sub, vf-Store
Developing a set of services for accessing hardware devices (Drivers), software applications (APIs), and external services
Developing frameworks for providing with high value-added services to vf-OS: Data Harmonisation, Data Analytics, IO Toolkit, and ESP
Developing community support components, namely: Engagement Hub, Training content, and Developer’s Portal.
Validated developments by:
Developing and validating Smart Manufacturing Applications (vApps) according to the needs of the manufacturing users (vf-OS Pilots Partners)
Organising 3 Hackathons so the software community of the future had the chance of evaluating vf-OS as a whole: Valencia, Guimaraes, and Lyon.
Exploited vf-OS results dissemination & exploitation channels and means by:
Organising workshops (both academic and industrial), participating into cluster meetings, publishing related blog posts, and continuously sharing content on social media
Setting up Industry 4 Factory Solutions Ltd (i4FS Ltd), which will exploit vf-OS developments
Assessing vf-OS market opportunities, and producing solid individual exploitation plans
Specifying the IPR and licensing model for a successful exploitability of vf-OS, both in individual and collaborative exploitations means.
All components, with the exception of the vf-Store backend (which in turn is based on a proprietary technology), developed within vf-OS are Open Source and they are available in the vf-OS Developer’s Engagement Hub where the source code will be available and maintained for a period of not less than three years from the end of the project.
At the end of the project, vf-OS provided a working prototype to help software developers when producing Smart Manufacturing Applications to solve the needs of manufacturing industry users. This working prototype has been deployed on servers in each pilot installation with another server accessible to all partners developers.
The working prototype of vf-OS Environment allows:
Software Developers to:
Develop Smart Manufacturing Applications (vApps) by using the design-time components made available
Interact with other developers, and creating a community, to solve issues, problems, and exchange of ideas.
Manufacturing Users to:
Host local installations of the vf-OS environment for executing vApps in their IT premises
Demand or request new vApps to the software developers’ community, through the Application Store, so their needs are solved by IT professionals.
ICT and Manufacturing Providers to:
Develop their own ICT interfaces and manufacturing connections to access their products (Device Drivers) and/or services (API connectors).
Service Providers to:
Provide 3rd party services, such as hosting, storage, connected cloud services, etc., including those based on developed solutions.
Success stories are based on the opinion from the vf-OS User partners, namely Mondragon Assembly (MASS), Consulgal, Applications Plastique du Rhône (APR), and Tardy.
Within Pilot 1 “Manufacturing & Logistic – Automation”, the development of an “advanced assistance service” is a key point in MASS’ solar business strategy because it is the differential value regarding its competitors. Furthermore, a better assistance service could have positive effects regarding cost reduction.
MASS wants to improve in this area using digitalization and vf-OS is an important tool to achieve this goal. The idea is to have a kit with several tools to offer to the customers an advanced solution and give them a better service through those tools. The developments made inside the Pilot 1 are in this direction, so MASS is expecting to use the different vApps with several customers.
In Pilot 2 “Construction – Industrialisation”, Consulgal’s ultimate intention when participating in R&D&I projects is always to obtain tools that can be used or be an early prototype for more advanced solutions. These can then improve the company’s efficiency and can be integrated in company’s services thus allowing it to stand out above its competitors and to provide clients with further service quality reassurance. In this respect, the prototypes developed for Consugal under vf-OS are expected that they could be first steps towards more advanced solutions.
However, it was clear to CON that most of the vApps developed are much more than just prototypes. Most of them have the potential to be integrated with other apps being developed under ZDMP, an Innovation Action in which Consulgal is involved and whose purpose is to deploy effective, usable solutions (not just prototypes). Others can also be used practically as they are only pending some minor improvements to be integrated in Consulgal’s activities and services. This then gives the company a relevant competitive advantage and contributing to strengthen its position as one of the 35 most innovative Engineering companies in Europe.
Finally, in Pilot 3 “Manufacturing Assembly”, the global vision of capacity production and the collaboration with customers and suppliers was APR/TARDY development focus. The aim was to improve the quality of the customer service by sending faster responses, a better schedule management, and better knowledge of their production. Finally, APR wanted to improve their quality control to gain new market on the plastic production and reduce their production costs.
As part of the vf-OS project it has allowed APR and TARDY to improve their research in every point indicated above. The expected result was to have software to manage with greater efficiency production and to have better customer service. The development of the Pilot 3 vApps respond to these objectives.
Regarding Exploitation, one of vf-OS’ main results is the formation of a start-up company called Industry 4 Factory Solutions Limited, hereinafter called i4FS Ltd. i4FS was set up together with ZDMP project partners at the end of September 2019 under the Registrar of Companies for England and Wales, as Company Number 12235902 with nominal capital of £1000,00 and its main headquarters are in United Kingdom.
i4FS is a joint initiative and shareholding of vf-OS partners Information Catalyst for Enterprise Ltd. (ICE, UK), Ascora GmbH (ASC, DE), Almende (ALM, NL), Caixa Magica (CMS, PT). ZDMP is a platform project, focused on zero-defect manufacturing and includes vf-OS technologies. ZDMP started in 2019 and shareholders from ZDMP are VideoSystems and CETECK. In addition, Exos -the spin-off company created by Universitat Politècnica de València- (UPV, ES) has joined via ZDMP.
ZDMP will take most of the vf-OS work and extend it to a more commercial stage as well as adding other elements as well in the context of the ZDMP project. In a more mature state than expected, vf-OS has provided working prototypes capable of helping the software developers (either individual or as a company), whose main customers are manufacturers, to develop applications for solving their customers’ needs.
i4FS (https://i4fs.com/) will exploit vf-OS components and assets through the activities of software (vApps, i4Apps) development, consultancy, training and deployment of the vf-OS Platform and vf-Store. i4FS will, as well, make available and improve the source code of the components developed under vf-OS. It is expected that further shareholders may join, eg some ZDMP project partners, and that i4FS applies for a PIC so the company is eligible for obtaining funding from the EC in further developing vf-OS components and assets.
The following summarise the lessons learnt by the different vf-OS partners:
vf-OS RTD partners have been capable of learning technologies and methodologies leading to an increase of their know-how and experience.
It is important that developers and users keep a constant communication and accept that requirements at the beginning of the project do not necessarily take into account all the conditions affecting the practical use of the vApps, on the one hand, and that the available vApps' components may not be enough to meet all of the users expectations, on the other hand.
KPIs defined on the basis of a global performance improvement of a situation described by a use case may be insufficient to measure an vApp's true impact.
Whenever feasible, the activity described in the use case should be broken down into steps and the expected impact should be defined in terms of expected existence or not of an improvement and how this can be assessed/measured.
A vApp's performance and relevance should take into consideration its deployment to the user’s legacy systems and its usability on those systems.
The ergonomic aspect of the vApps’ usage has been a recurrent issue raised by the end users at later stages. From their perspective it is a cornerstone for the success of a developed solution as some vApps are less used and thus impact KPIs (Users are likely to work as the old methodology, which means no improvement of the overall process).
vf-OS has helped the different user partners to focus in its digitalization strategy.
vf-OS has been important for MASS to understand better Industry 4.0 technologies and to think which technologies are important and applicable for their business.
Some of the User partners plan to use the developed vApps in their corresponding pilots to offer to their customers advanced digital tools for improved customer’s experience.