Software systems that enable companies to collaborate on complex manufacturing activities are increasingly vital for advanced industry.
“The University of Manchester produced an ontology and an approach to handling re-planning of production activities in response to supply disruptions … and played a key role in implementing a prototype system [EPIQUA] which demonstrated the viability of this approach and was trialled with three separate use cases.”
Research by Professor Nikolay Mehandjiev and colleagues has informed the design of software modules and service systems that enable manufacturing companies to collaborate more effectively in the European aerospace supply chain.
The research has led to new software products, to an enhancement of the capabilities of European supply systems, and improved efficiency and effectiveness across European manufacturing.
Over the last 15 years Mehandjiev and colleagues have focused on two specific research questions. Firstly, how can a knowledge-based software system provide the flexibility, transparency and other features required to support human decision-making? And secondly, how can we formalise knowledge about ways of working and allow team compositions that are not limited by the knowledge available?
To answer these questions they developed an approach to handling the re-planning of production activities in response to supply disruptions, and then conducted research into a knowledge-driven method and into systems for composing collaborative teams in manufacturing.
Since 2012 they have then led a number of follow-on research projects with industrial collaborators which have applied and refined the knowledge garnered through the research projects into specific manufacturing sectors.
One sector has been the aerospace industry, and Professor Mehandjiev was a co-investigator on the Decentralised Agile Coordination Across Supply Chains (DIGICOR) project led by Airbus.
The project focused on novel collaboration concepts for supply chains and the subsequent design of an integrated digital platform that significantly enhanced the formation of collaborative production networks, including SMEs.
This succeeded his work on the Adaptive Production Management (ARUM) project which researched how planning and control systems for the manufacturing of complex products in small-lot production, such as aircraft and aircraft interiors, could be improved to handle disturbances.
The research has led to new commercially successful products and services being developed for the European manufacturing industry, enhanced the capabilities of European supply systems, and led to significant efficiency improvements for Airbus. In particular Airbus has benefited from improvements to its production re-planning systems and its procurement and supply system.
Other companies have benefited directly from the research too. CertiCon is a Czech technology company specialising in the innovation and development of software solutions for the healthcare, telecommunications, automotive and aeronautical industries, and was an industrial collaborator with Mehandjiev and colleagues on the ARUM and DIGICOR projects.
This collaboration resulted in a new software product, EPIQUA, which was based on Mehandjiev’s and colleagues’ research into how to model the knowledge underpinning systems which can re-plan production activities after supply chain disruptions.
Airbus subsequently placed orders for EPIQUA with CertiCon to develop a full commercial version of the prototype. The first version of the system was successfully delivered to Airbus and implemented in 2018 and two additional versions for different types of assembling workshops were delivered later in 2019.
Hanse Aerospace is Germany’s largest independent association of aerospace suppliers and service providers. Since 2019 it has been using the Collaborative Team Formation (CTF) module developed by Mehandjiev’s team during the DIGICOR project to enhance capability in the aerospace supply chain.
The CTF module specifically allows Hanse Aerospace to support the formation of collaborative teams among SMEs when they are bidding for opportunities and contracts, by matching SMEs based on their knowledge and skills which can together deliver an aerospace product or subsystem at various stages of procurement. Hanse Aerospace say that without access to the CTF module SMEs can only create collaborative teams using a manual exploration process which limits the number of opportunities they can bid for.
Two British companies, Control 2K and Sematronix, have also used Mehandjiev’s and colleagues’ software to build a collaboration portal for an SME cluster in Wales. The portal enables SMEs in Wales to collaborate when bidding for contracts with large original equipment manufacturers. Specifically the portal uses the Tender Decomposition and Matchmaking Service (TDMS) module developed by Mehandjiev and colleagues during the DIGICOR research project.