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UIUC, ZJUI to create smart, flexible manufacturing networks


Kim Gudeman, Coordinated Science Lab

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out this spring, necessities like toilet paper, ventilators, and hand sanitizer quickly became in short supply. Manufacturers did shift production to help meet demand – for example, General Motors transformed an Indiana auto facility into a ventilator factory – but the process of completely revamping assembly lines is cumbersome, especially when demand changes suddenly, according to CSL’s Katie Driggs-Campbell.

Driggs-Campbell is co-leading a team of researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and The Zhejiang University-University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Institute (ZJUI) to create smart and highly flexible manufacturing networks, enabling adaptability from the component to supply chain level. The five-year, $1.5 million Center for Adaptive, Resilient Cyber-Physical Manufacturing Networks (AR-CyMaN) will create tools and technology to help manufacturers more quickly meet new consumer demands.

“Today’s manufacturing industry is very good at optimizing processes to mass produce one thing,” said Driggs-Campbell, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UIUC. “What we want to do is enable a higher degree of customization that enables flexibility along the entire pipeline.”

Flexible manufacturing is considered to be an essential component of the 4th industrial revolution, which aims to employ automation and data science in cyber-physical systems, including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). For companies, flexibility will increase the number of products that can be economically manufactured. For nations, it will mean the ability to adapt to pressing needs, such as those brought on by pandemics.

The AR-CyMaN team will build the foundations for cyber-physical manufacturing by connecting traditional processes with computing infrastructure. Researchers aim to build the tools to create distributed manufacturing networks and to provide resilience and adaptability at the node and resource level, across warehouses and facilities, and embedded within the cyber infrastructure.

The research will center around three thrusts.

The first thrust will focus on creating more resilient processes and factory floors. Researchers will focus on the physical processes, such as robotic assembly or 3D printing, that serve as the base for the proposed cyber-physical manufacturing network. The efforts of this thrust will preserve safety guarantees in performance even as the system adapts.  As a key enabler of flexible manufacturing, additive manufacturing (e.g., 3D printing) is increasingly used for production applications. Scalable additive production requires new quality systems that can acknowledge the capability differences between 3D printers; researchers will work to leverage such insights for production planning, job assignment, and supply chain management.

In the second thrust, researchers will create adaptive planning, which will use data from physical processes in decision-making and optimization and will in turn provide feedback to improve the physical layer. These planning and control modules will leverage high performance computing and databased provided by the cyber infrastructure, provided by the final thrust. This effort will emphasize improving workflows, specifically tailored to manufacturing, and security across the network. This will enable manufacturers to optimize processes and enable powerful machine learning applications.

“A big piece of what we’re trying to do is enable manufacturers to make use of the data they are generating,”  said Driggs-Campbell. “We want to close the loop by taking this feedback and data and improving the entire process. Part of that will include thinking about ways to integrate people into processes, like interfacing with the cyber manufacturing network or interacting with the machinery and thinking about how we can push the safety and resilience aspects.”

The new center will be located in the Coordinated Science Lab. CSL’s Placid Ferreria, Mechanical Science and Engineering, is co-director. Other UIUC faculty include CSL Director Klara Nahrstedt, Computer Science; Srinivasa Salapaka, William King, Chenhui Shao, and N.R. Aluru, Mechanical Science and Engineering, and Xin Chen, Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering. ZJUI researchers include K.D Schewe (ZJU Director), Hongwei Wang (ZJU Co-Director), Liangjing Yang, Jong Zhou, Mark Butala, Huan (Simon) Hu, and Zhiqiang Ge.

The new center is not the first collaboration between the two universities. In 2016, ZJUI was launched on ZJU’s international campus in Haining, China, about 120 km southwest of Shanghai. ZJU-UIUC Institute faculty teach and research in broad program themes of engineering and system sciences; information and data sciences; and energy, environment, and infrastructure sciences. The Center is one of three research efforts that was just funded through the ZJUI initiative.

"AR-CyMaN gives us the opportunity to explore and understand how ubiquitous computing and high-bandwidth communications can be used to achieve new levels of capability, flexibility/adaptability, and reliability in manufacturing," Ferreria said. "Additionally, the joint research center will explore new organizational frameworks to make manufacturing capability more accessible or democratic to spur innovation and enterprise."

Driggs-Campbell intends to build tech transition into the process, noting that the pandemic has highlighted the need to be adaptive.

“At the end of the day, we want to enable cost-effective manufacturing at any level of volume,” she said. “We intend this work to impact the real world.”