Sudden changes have posed existential threats to businesses for as long as commerce has existed. But usually, such changes have been rare, ‘black swan’ events, impacting and addressed by individual firms on an ad-hoc basis.
But as so forcibly demonstrated by recent events from war to pandemic, in our deeply interconnected and global economic environment, this approach is no longer adequate (if indeed it ever was). The apocalyptic four horsemen of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) are now a constant in business life, not just for individual enterprises but across supply chains and at national, regional or global level. To achieve resilience in the face of these threats, manufacturers need to devise much more considered, structured, pro-active and speedy approaches to how they reconfigure themselves to meet the challenges. This is the problem to be tackled by the newly launched Horizon Europe R3GROUP project, in which ZLC is taking a leading role.
R3GROUP stands for Resilient Rapid Reconfigurable Production Process Chains, and will specifically address the needs of medium and high volume manufacturers to rapidly reconfigure their operations at a range of different production levels, from product design, individual machines and processes, to entire factories and supply chains, and at the different types of response that may be required, individually or in combination. The specific ‘triggers’ for a reconfiguration response that will be explored include the need to scale production up or down; the identification and onboarding of new suppliers and/or the potential use of alternative raw materials; the need to accommodate of multiple product variants; and unforeseen or unprecedented events be they technical, political, economic, legislative or environmental.
In its approach, R3GROUP will be following the six principles of reconfigurability (modularity, integrability, customization, convertibility, diagnosibility and scalability) to develop technologies in five ‘pillars’ of resilience through reconfigurability.
An Asset Administration Shell (AAS) enabled platform will be developed to provide horizontal and vertical integration for reconfiguration (AAS is simply a ‘bridge’ between physical assets and the Internet of Things). Second, reconfigurable machine tool concepts will be used to develop production tools and technologies. Multi-level digital twins and a digital toolkit will support rapid evaluation of the likely impacts of proposed reconfigurations. R3GROUP will also use innovative tools that monitor the status of the wider value chain in order to anticipate or detect the ‘triggers’ that reveal the imminent need for reconfiguration action, and fifthly, because change always carries the threat of negative as well as positive impacts, there will be multi-level monitoring, control, and quality assessment systems to mitigate negative effects. Across all of this, R3GROUP will recognise the need for human-centred solutions and appropriate reskilling. Naturally, R3GROUP will be looking to digitalization techniques to develop and deploy these new approaches.
R3GROUPwill be working on five pilot lines or demonstrators with companies in diverse manufacturing sectors such as fashion, automotive, plastics. Their businesses include both B2C and B2B models, and they include both OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers.
At a mid-sized plastic injection moulder serving industries from automotive to consumer goods, packaging and medical, the use case will be around reconfiguration of manufacturing to cope with volatility and uncertainty in their markets. The second use case is at a designer and manufacturer of metal automotive chassis components aims to drastically reduce the number of tools needed for the different family related components and the associated tool changes reconfiguration times.
At a copper tube manufacturer, production reconfiguration is already a frequent occurrence, but not in a smart or automated way, thus increasing cost and production time. The fourth case is in a company designing and manufacturing womenswear for multiple brands company: there is a big movement towards digitalization in the textile and clothing sector, and product ranges are of course constantly changing so reconfiguration needs also to be accelerated through digitalization. Finally, a leading home appliance manufacturer needs to address issues of reconfigurability through enhancing its toolmaking capabilities.
ZLC’s engagement is focused on digital twinning in the relevant supply chains – digital twins will be deployed in at least two of the use cases, with the aim of leveraging supply chain modelling techniques and the abundance of data that firms have available (even if it isn’t currently being used) to create the ability to forecast future supply chain disruptions and reconfiguration triggers. This will enable production planning to have a proper awareness of socio-economic trends and pressures in addition to the traditional economic and technical inputs. At the same time, ZLC will also be helping create virtual collaborative environments in which designers and manufacturers can co-create and codevelop products, enabling faster and more robust reconfiguration responses to the four horsemen of VUCA.
For more information please contact Dr. Mustafa Çagri Gürbüz at [email protected]