UK economic prosperity will increasingly depend on maintaining and further expanding a resilient and sustainable manufacturing sector based on sophisticated technologies, relevant knowledge and skill bases, and manufacturing infrastructure that has the ability to produce a high variety of complex products faster, better and cheaper. In high labour cost economies, manufacturing competitiveness will depend on maximising the utilisation of all available resources, empowering human intelligence and creativity, and capturing and capitalising on available information and knowledge for the total product lifecycle from design, through production, use and maintenance to recycling. It will also require an infrastructure that can quickly respond to consumer and producer requirements and minimise energy, transport, materials and resource usage while maximising environmental sustainability, safety and economic competitiveness.
Building on the latest developments in Informatics, Computer Science, Operations Research, and Manufacturing Systems Science, we will address these needs with a research programme centred on the concept of ‘Cloud Manufacturing’, which has been defined as ”a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable manufacturing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction”. The research will adopt the methods of cloud computing and crowdsourcing. The ‘cloud’ allows a range of data sources within design and manufacturing processes to be shared and mined to enable process optimisation and increase responsiveness; the crowds encompass manufacturing partners, designers, logistics partners, and consumers who are sources of potentially valuable data, information and product and process knowledge that can be elicited for optimising complex manufacturing environments. The approach admits new models for open innovation within the manufacturing space, enabling new enterprises to arise without a need for a large capital investment. The research programme is a radical departure from the current philosophy of manufacturing ICT – it will create a framework for participatory contribution of information from the actual manufacturing entities and support services to the consumers and users of products. This transformational approach presents theoretical, technical, practical, ethical and social challenges that we will meet through new fundamental multidisciplinary research.
Whilst there have been some tentative steps taken to harness cloud concepts in manufacturing the theoretical methods, infrastructure and scientific knowledge needed to deliver the full potential of future cloud manufacturing have yet to be established. We aim to develop a holistic framework and understand its role within global manufacturing networks through: seeking the appropriate products, sectors, scales and volumes; identifying the impacted lifecycle stages from design to manufacture, maintenance and re-cycling; understanding how new product design and manufacturing will be influenced by lifecycle data; and finally analysing how future products will be influenced by cloud manufacturing enabling local on-demand supply of components and services. Cloud Manufacturing provides far reaching opportunities but has major research challenges including: understanding the diverse resource base, both in design collateral and production facilities; incorporating and integrating customer/user intelligence; and the representation and processing of information within a secure open service-oriented platform.
Partners: IBM, ARM, PA Consulting Group, RTI, Midlands Aero