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VFF (news article)

Virtual Factory Framework

Volkswagen Autoeuropa uses INESC TEC technology to increase productivity

Virtual Factory Framework improves manufacturing processes in European Industry

The technology developed by INESC TEC’s Centre for Enterprise Systems Engineering (CESE) as part of project Virtual Factory Framework will allow companies to improve their internal processes using tools that are capable of assessing the complex and dynamic behaviour of a factory. The Portuguese factory Volkswagen Autoeuropa was the first to apply technology to which INESC TEC has contributed actively. This confirms the Associated Laboratory’s capacity to conduct research for industry with an effective impact on national competitiveness.

CESE develops technology to monitor industrial processes

Manufacturing systems are becoming more and more complex. Today, every factory should be capable of fabricating products of different types. The European project Virtual Factory Framework (VFF) started in 2009 to meet these demands.

The project developed a new platform where the main goal was to guarantee interoperability between different tools specific to each life cycle of a factory in order to make production more profitable and guarantee competitiveness. Using the VFF concept it is possible to integrate 3D modelling software with simulation tools and/or a tool to measure performance.

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The VFF technology makes it possible to virtually plan, see and simulate the environment of a factory, thus leading to the concept of virtual factory. Therefore, this is an extremely important tool for stakeholders to make decisions as they can manage and plan industrial processes in real time and with larger amounts of information.

INESC TEC was one of the project’s most active partners

The VFF is a European project that gathers 28 partners, including INESC TEC. From the very beginning, INESC TEC took a leading position and was involved in six of the eight work packages, and led one of them. “We were the third partner with the highest participation in the project”, summarises António Almeida, a researcher at CESE involved in the VFF from the very beginning. At INESC TEC the project wasled by Américo Azevedo, and the team also included Álvaro Caldas, João Bastos, Roberto da Piedade, António Correia Alves and Filipa Ramalho, all researchers at CESE .

INESC TEC was in charge of implementing R&D in Performance Management. The Performance Measurement Engine and the data model were two of the main results of the project, which also led to a new concept and approach called “factory templates”. “This innovative approach allows companies to plan and manage their industrial and business processes in an automated way and in real time, throughout the entire life cycle of a factory”, explains Filipa Ramalho.

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Now that the project has been concluded and the main results achieved, it is expected that companies will be able to automatically calculate the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which will drastically reduce the cost associated with performing the calculations manually, which happens today. Companies will also be able to identify the causes for poor performance in the factory, as well as obtain more indicators to measure performance in the factory.

Volkswagen Autoeuropa will use technology to increase productivity

The know-how at CESE is crucial to help Portuguese companies improve their efficiency and effectiveness by adopting tools and methodologies. As the industrial partner, Volkswagen Autoeuropa was the first to benefit from the technology, starting in May.

It is believed that the platform will allow significant improvements in terms of management processes and performance assessment at the factory in Palmela, Portugal. Volkswagen Autoeuropa will go from a manual and time-consuming process, where thousands of data pieces are registered and analysed daily by the team, to a technology that collects, compiles and calculates the data automatically and in real time. As a result, hours of work will be saved and man power will be available to perform other tasks. At the same time, the margin for errors will be reduced and the entire process will be automated.

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“Volkswagen Autoeuropa will not only be able to measure the level of productivity at any moment, but also identify the points in the production chain that directly influence that productivity. This is possible because the technology is able to isolate each variable that influences the number of hours required to produce each car”, emphasises Américo Azevedo.

The opinion from the company located in Palmela is also quite positive. "The partnership with INESC TEC was very enriching to Volkswagen AutoEuropa, as we are now able to share practical and theoretical know-how", states Margarida Pereira, director of Industrial Engineering and Optimised Management at Volkswagen Autoeuropa. "We stress the strong commitment and professionalism of the INESC TEC team that followed us during the project”, adds the director.

The partnership with the car manufacturer will continue on. The impact of the technology was such that the company has already identified other areas where the support of INESC TEC can be useful. Volkswagen Autoeuropa is now negotiating a new project with the Portuguese institute that will work as an extension to the VFF project, where the main goal is to guarantee that the tool can be used with a high level of confidence in all management processes. The first stage of the project was concluded by the first semester of 2013.

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Another good example of the “relationship” between research and industry

The VFF is another CESE project with a strong industrial and business component that confirms INESC TEC’s important contribution to modernising the national and European industry. All use cases and functional models, concepts and methodologies developed have been tested and validated with an industrial partner, in this case Volkswagen Autoeuropa.

Furthermore, the importance and usefulness of the technology for the business and industrial future is unequivocal. When assessing the project, Álvaro Caldas and António Almeida have no doubt that “this was a pioneer project funded by the European Union in an area that is increasingly relevant: interoperability for digital factories”, the researchers confirm.

The fact that CESE was invited to become a partner of excellence to develop new projects as part of the factories of the future concept is another indicator of INESC TEC’s relevant role in industry. The Institute’s capacity to conduct research to benefit industry and with immediate results on national competitiveness has already been confirmed. Proof of that is the funding ratio coming from those projects, which at INESC TEC surpasses the funding coming from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology – FCT (44 per cent versus 32 per cent of FCT projects).

Other than Volkswagen Autoeuropa and INESC TEC, the project gathered a further 26 partners, including the Portuguese ATEC (Training Academy for Industry), and the international partners ITIA (project coordinator), AUDI, Alenia, Fraunhofer, ETH Zurich, Tecnalia and RWTH-WZL. The VFF is part of the EU 7th Framework Programme.



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