• Rohit A. Deshmukh

Towards an Ecosystem of Digital Manufacturing Platforms

In this blog post, we provide an overview of the architecture of EFPF (European Factory Platform) ecosystem. The EFPF ecosystem is a federation of digital manufacturing platforms (DMPs) that aims to realise the objectives of agile manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and lot-size-one manufacturing by enabling seamless connectivity and reuse of resources such as tools, services, and data across the connected platforms.


Motivation


The increasing digitalisation and servitization in the manufacturing companies opens new opportunities for them to collaborate, share data, reuse each other’s resources such as products, tools, and services, etc., to enable a variety of new business models and revenue streams. However, enabling collaboration among the manufacturing companies to realise innovative B2B scenarios is still challenging because of the interoperability gaps between their digital resources such as tools, services, systems, platforms, and data APIs.

The objective of the EFPF ecosystem is to interlink the heterogeneous DMPs and enable interoperability, communication and sharing of resources in order to enable companies to make a transition from traditional mass production to a lot-size-one manufacturing.

The primary objectives of the EFPF architecture definition task are to make the design of the EFPF ecosystem modular, scalable, and extensible and to define the enablers and the methodologies that are necessary for its creation and for sustaining its operation.


Challenges


The architecture definition task identified the following major challenges that need to be addressed in order to enable the creation of the ecosystem:

  • How to integrate the heterogeneous platforms, tools, and services provided by independent entities to form the EFPF ecosystem and enable communication among them while ensuring that the system is scalable and extensible?

  • How to enable interoperability and the creation of cross-platform applications in an easy manner, without making any changes to the existing tools and services?

  • What core components are needed to ensure that the ecosystem keeps running and providing the core functionality even if the connected tools/services/platforms are disconnected from the ecosystem?

  • How to enable the realisation of specific use case scenarios from the manufacturing domain such as the pilot applications from the EFPF project?


High-level Architecture of the EFPF Ecosystem


The following figure presents an overview of the high-level architecture of the EFPF ecosystem that consists of the Ecosystem Enablers and tools, services, and platforms from various providers.

To make the administration and maintenance of the ecosystem easier, the architecture definition task classifies the components into two major categories:

  1. Ecosystem Enablers: The common core components that are required to integrate the heterogeneous platforms, tools and services provided by independent entities to form the EFPF ecosystem and enable communication among them while ensuring that the system is scalable and extensible. The EFPF Ecosystem Administrators are responsible for the hosting, maintenance, and administration of these components.

  2. Smart Factory Tools, Services, and Platforms: The rest of the components that provide the use case specific functionality required to realise the domain-specific use case scenarios. The providers of these components can make use of the Ecosystem Enablers to manage their development and operations' lifecycle. The System Integrators make use of the Ecosystem Enablers to integrate these components with the ecosystem, to establish communication with the other components, and to create composite applications. The providers of these components are responsible for their hosting, maintenance, and administration, i.e., these components are “self-managed”.

The EFPF ecosystem is designed considering the federation approach where the distributed heterogeneous digital manufacturing platforms developed, provided, and managed by different independent entities permit the creation of added value within the ecosystem. To enable communication among them, an integration and communication layer, i.e., the Data Spine that acts as a translator/adapter between them is used. In addition, the rest of the Ecosystem Enablers provide the common core functionality and the digital infrastructure that is needed for the efficient operation of the ecosystem. Thus, the EFPF ecosystem follows the Service-oriented architecture (SOA) style.


Ecosystem Enablers as the Building Blocks of the Ecosystem

The Ecosystem Enablers are the building blocks that enable the creation and functioning of the ecosystem. The EFPF architecture categorises the Ecosystem Enablers into 6 types based on the functionality they offer:


1. Data Spine: Identity Federation, Cross-Platform Interoperability & Service Composition

  • Creation of a holistic framework for security, privacy, and management of data as well as users

  • Enabling Single Sign-On (SSO) across the connected platforms

  • Enabling service-level cross-platform interoperability

  • Ensuring that the defined interoperability mechanism enables the ecosystem to be scalable and extensible

  • Methodology and tooling support for an easy creation of cross-platform applications

2. DevOps, Maintenance & Support

  • Platform for source code, deployment, and configuration management

  • Tools and procedures for infrastructure management such as monitoring and data backup and recovery routines

  • Documentation and support for users

3. API Management

  • Easy provisioning, lifecycle management and discovery of service metadata

  • Uniformity across and completeness of API specifications

  • Delegation of access consent requests directly to the service/data providers

  • Management of interface contracts among service providers and consumers

4. Unified Functionality

  • Single point of entry to the ecosystem

  • Availability of coherent functionality at the ecosystem-level, e.g., the uniform view of all the offerings of the connected platforms, a unified/integrated marketplace, etc.

5. Essential Platform-Based Functionality

  • Identification of functionality that is provided by one/more of the connected platforms, but is necessary for the realisation of multiple use cases from the manufacturing domain. E.g.: Factory Connectivity, Data Storage, Tendering and Bid Management, etc.

6. Governance Rules & Trust Mechanisms

  • Definition of effective governance mechanisms to enable the ecosystem to reach its major goals and create sustainable outcomes

  • To ensure that the governance mechanisms reflect on the lawful interactions of key stakeholders, be they owners of the platforms, companies using the platform, or developers, users, advertisers, economists, computer scientists, governments, or regulators

Thus, the Ecosystem Enablers provide the core functionality that enables the smart factory tools, services, and platforms to integrate with the ecosystem, enable communication and the creation of composite applications to realise various smart factory applications and use case scenarios such as the pilot applications. Some generic use case scenarios that, for example, involve searching for product/service supplier companies across platforms, can be realised directly using the Ecosystem Enabler components. Whereas, for realising the use case scenarios that involve specific requirements such as predictive maintenance, risk detection, supply chain transparency, or creation of a customised dashboard, etc., the Smart Factory Tools and Services from the connected platforms can be used.


Smart Factory Tools, Services, and Platforms

  • EFPF Platform: This is a digital platform that provides unified access to dispersed (IoT, digital manufacturing, data analytics, blockchain, distributed workflow, business intelligence, matchmaking, etc.) tools and services through the Ecosystem Enabler called ‘EFPF Portal’ that acts as the single point of entry for the ecosystem. The tools and services brought together in the EFPF platform are the market ready or reference implementations of the Smart Factory and Industry 4.0 tools from the EFPF project partners. These micro-services are made accessible through the EFPF Portal using the Single Sign-On (SSO) functionality offered by the Data Spine.

  • Base Platforms: The EFPF ecosystem is created by initially interlinking the four digital manufacturing platforms from the European Factories-of-Future (FoF-11-2016) cluster focused on supply chains and logistics—namely NIMBLE, COMPOSITION, DIGICOR, and vf-OS. These are termed as the ‘Base Platforms’. The base platforms provide functionality that is complementary to each other with minimum overlap and hence by interlinking them, the EFPF ecosystem is able to offer a comprehensive set of business functions.

  • 3rd Party Platforms: In addition to the four base platforms, the EFPF ecosystem enables interlinking of other 3rd party platforms that address the specific needs of connected smart factories. The examples of 3rd party platforms that joined the EFPF ecosystem include ValueChain’s Network Portal platform, Nextworks’ Symphony platform and SMECluster’s Industreweb platform.

  • 3rd Party Tools, Services, and Data: The EFPF ecosystem can also be extended by connecting individual tools, services, and data APIs, etc. that do not belong to an existing platform.


Realisation of Embedded Pilot Scenarios and Open Call Experimentation


The EFPF components were successfully used for the implementation of the EFPF pilot use case scenarios from diverse domains such as Aerospace, Furniture Manufacturing and Circular Economy to provide state-of-the-art solutions for real-world problems. Checkout the previous blog posts for details and watch this space for more blogs on the EFPF Open Call Experimentation activities.