UES, as explains Alojzij Sluga, Professor at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, stands for Ubiquitous Embedded Systems. ‘The name carries the idea that one could control a whole production and retailing chain from anywhere in the world and at any time, thanks to wireless devices integrated in the products, manufacturing machines, and the factories themselves. The objective is to implement technically a new way to do business’. The technology developed during the project addresses several of the globalised companies’ needs which have until now been disregarded: for example, how a business manager can find out if his smartphone assembly line in China can cope with the demand coming from Europe?
Sluga answers: ‘Several software solutions exist, but they still bare crucial limitations and do not support manufacturing processes in a broader sense. Let’s take a concrete example: in a shop floor where there are about two thousand new operations in a single month, these operations are supported by about ten thousand documents, drawings, work orders, cost calculations, and production protocols. All these information should be available in real time in a more condensed form, at any hierarchical level, in any geographical location.’
He adds: ‘Within the project, we’ve addressed these issues from several perspectives, each partner having a role. The University of Minho, Portugal, took charge of the conceptual development. The industrial partners, Litostroj Power, a hydro power equipment manufacturer, and PPC Buzet, an automotive supplier, were involved in the implementation of the developed system. Our colleagues from Joseph Fourier University, France, were working on the energetic aspects of the project.‘
It was ACS (Advanced Consulting Services), a Korean company based in Seoul’s digital city, the first high-tech complex in the world for digital technologies, which put theories into practice. Mr. Suk Keun Cha, ACS’ dynamic Cofounder and CTO, never misses an occasion to demonstrate the wonders of his technology to his visitors. Touch screens displayed on walls or fitting in hand show ranges of data coming from all around the world: stocks, sales, producing capacities and so on, all updated in real time and communicating wirelessly directly with the manufacturing equipment itself.
There is a strong interest in Europe in sectors needing precision based manufacturing.
Suk Keun Cha, Cofounder & CTO, at ACS
The Korean touch
Cha likes to demonstrate on a board having pride of place in his office the functioning of the modern global company: ‘with our technology you can easily coordinate design in Korea, production in Brazil, planning in the USA, maintenance in France and recycling in China for a product actually distributed and sold in Germany’. Launched in 1988, ACS has a long experience in that field of research, when the Internet was still an emerging technology, it was the first to implement a manufacturing software designed for global operation in South Korea.
Since then the country became the innovation hub that we know and ACS expanded its client portfolio in a way many companies would envy. ‘We pledged for the need of an ubiquitous integrated system already ten years ago’ says Cha. ‘We also helped South Korean companies to stay ahead of the competition: when car constructor Hyundai started to implement our real-time production management technics the rest of the world was still using the old “just-in-time” model’.
After the completion of the project, ACS already started to implement the UES solution within the factories of prestigious clients such as the semiconductor producer Infineon or Schaeffler, the second biggest car-parts manufacturer in the world. ‘There is a strong interest in Europe in sectors needing precision based manufacturing, in industries where you are not allowed to make a mistake and the product has to be at a top quality levels,’ says Cha, ‘and the technology is also available to SMEs, working together as a global network, which constitute the larger part of our clientele’.
Today’s manufacturing is not the manufacturing of tomorrow.
Alojzij Sluga, Professor, University of Ljubljana
A New manufacturing model
The UES technology materialises cutting-edge theories on how work-flow is changing in a globalised economy. Sluga states that most production processes are still based on the paradigm developed by Frederick Taylor at the beginning of the last century, since then known as taylorism and associated to our grand-father’s assembly line work. ‘What is sure is that today’s manufacturing is not the manufacturing of tomorrow, as it is too rigid to adjust to the demands of a globalised market’ says the project coordinator.
In 2011, the Japanese earthquake affected production lines worldwide. They were reports of shortages in supply chains of carmakers and electronic manufacturers in places as far stretched as Louisiana or South Germany, temporarily deprived of Japanese-made parts. Due to their lack of flexibility, the offset of the production to other suppliers in several cases could not be done on time. ‘New achievements in the area of computer science, such as context-aware applications, semantic networks, and artificial intelligence, are also slowly making their way into industry. But the main problem today is that all these applications are isolated, not working together’ adds Sluga.
‘What we call ubiquitous manufacturing systems is one of the emerging production paradigms towards which manufacturing companies are evolving. This evolution in turn will provide new opportunities not only at a technical level but also at a social one. With UES, potentially everyone in a factory is a “coordinator” and the traditional role of the chief operator is abolished’ says Sluga. ‘We are moving from hierarchical to decentralized decision-making. There are several competing models for the future, ubiquitous manufacturing being only one of them, and it is too early to tell which one will succeed. Yet the question is not “if?”, but “when?”.’