Summary

The vf-OS Project has developed an Open Operating System for Virtual Factories, deployed in a cloud platform, supporting a multi-sided market ecosystem for providing a range of services for the connected factory of the future to better integrate manufacturing. It captures the notion of a manufacturing “operating system” such as that on a desktop computer and provides the necessary tools to realise it either in-cloud or on-premise. This enables a new level of flexibility and scalability in the manufacturing domain and tries to take advantage of, replicate, and adapt such concepts and tools.

Currently, a widely used reference implementation of such platforms supporting market ecosystems for developing applications for factories hardly exists. As RIA, vf-OS aimed and has validated its outcomes in a demonstration environment in the fields of Manufacturing & Logistic/Automation, Construction / Industrialisation, and Manufacturing Assembly/Collaboration.

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, rooted in the cloud, and 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 proposes 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.

vf-OS profits from existing technologies (eg FIWARE, Talend, etc) to quickly provide value to final users and developers.

vf-OS aims to become a neutral 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 real factory system where all factory application programs will run. Such an operating system includes real-time architectures for interoperability, management of the data deluge, ICT security, knowledge protection, and trust in collaborative infrastructures.

Regarding the potential impacts by vf-OS, the project targets three main objectives:

  • Innovative services, models and practices optimising manufacturing and logistics processes

  • Quantified reductions in the effort for integration or reconfiguration of today's hierarchical automation systems through advanced de-centralised or hybrid architectures

  • Better and faster reaction to market changes by being able to use holistic global and local optimisation algorithms in a collaborative sustainable value chain.
     

Finally, vf-OS has set up the company i4FS in conjunction with project ZDMP which will take the work where vf-OS has finished it and extend it to a more commercial stage. It is necessary to note that, although in a more mature state than expected, vf-OS has provided with a working prototype capable of helping the software developers (either individual or as a company), whose main customers are the manufacturing industry, when developing applications for solving their customers’ needs.

Project Context and Objectives

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 is provided to software developers for deploying Smart Manufacturing Applications (vApps) for industrial users. vApps can be sold on the vf-OS Manufacturing Applications Store which can then be executed on the Virtual Factory Platform.

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.
     

The vf-OS Platform provides a range of services to the connected factory of the future to integrate better manufacturing processes. The Manufacturing Applications Store (vf-Store) is open to software developers who, using the 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: Demand forecast, planning, supply, manufacturing, distribution, storage, replacement and recycling.

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 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 proposes 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, the operating system functions as an intermediary between the application behaviour of the factory and the factory hardware itself. This enables the 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.

vf-OS Concept and Approach

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vf-OS Working Prototype

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.

vf-OS Innovation, Research, and exploitation

  • Innovation: To develop an Open Operating System for Virtual Factories with the following salient features:

    • Virtual Factory System Kernel: Specific set of libraries and infrastructure for vf-OS applications to be built upon and interact with each other

    • Virtual Factory I/O: Flexible infrastructure adaptable to the applications and tools which are provided by vf-OS including the establishment of adapters to integrate with real factories and thus serve as interoperability mechanisms between the factory and the vf-OS

    • Virtual Factory Data and Connect: Set of semi-independent but related services taking a variety of input data at large scale, at different speeds and providing a set of nontrivial analytic operators

    • Open Applications Development Kit: An SDK to develop applications, a Hub to engage developers, a System Dashboard, and the OAK Studio for development itself.
       

  • Research: To research into system software for managing factory related computer hardware and software resources and providing common services for factory computational programs:

    • vf-OS Platform: Holistic service platform, which is the foundation for all services and end user applications that vf-OS facilitates, encapsulating and acting as the interface between the components, connectors, SDK (vf-OS OAK) functions, marketplace, service framework and the end user applications/developers

    • vf-Store: Live Manufacturing Smart Applications container for connecting manufacturing users’ needs with software developers’ solutions

    • vf-Service: Basic framework for facilitating third parties who may wish to provide additional services such as hosting or computation resources.
       

  • Exploitation and Sustainability: To derive a sustainable business model based on the use of the vf-OS Platform, vf-Store, and the vf-Service provision framework with the ability to:

    • Open Access: vf-OS and all its components by default open source enabling complementors (software developers, services providers, etc.) to permanently improve the vf-OS components and interact with the Virtual Factory Platform and develop Manufacturing Smart Applications using the free Open Applications Development Kit provided

    • Sustainable Marketplace and Store: vf-OS takes advantage of the great success of the mobile apps business model that are currently being provided for systems such as Google Play or the Apple Store; transferring this approach to the manufacturing sector based on the application framework and the information infrastructure created

    • Joint Exploitation: Establish the RTD of vf-OS as a cloud platform and services what represents the joint exploitation of all partners formalised through either a joint exploitation agreement

    • Start-up Company: Provide exploitation plans and a sustainability model for the furtherance of the project results including the establishment of a start-up company (i4FS – Industry 4 Factory Solutions)
       

  • Users: To demonstrate and validate the vf-OS components and business models:

    • Three Use cases: Do so in three challenging diverse use cases acting as demonstrators: Automation equipment, construction, and plastic/metal components

    • Public-access: Provide a continuous open, public-access demonstrator during the project for other parties, especially SMEs, web-entrepreneurs, and students, including the availability of prizes to stimulate take-up

    • Validation: Instantiate and validate the business models and technicalities and verify and quantify the gains of using vf-OS

    • Agile Approach: Impact users current business scenarios during and beyond the project through an agile, sprint-based approach to ensure maximum impact throughout the project and conformance with most-current and evolving user requirements approaches.

The project was concluded in October 2019. Thanks for your interest.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 723710.