SHOP4CF stands for Smart Human Oriented Platform for Connected Factories and is an EU-funded project within the eighth framework program Horizon 2020. The project aims to set up a new era of human-centered robotics to significantly impact the industrial Europe of tomorrow. To bring this vision to life, the consortium aims at a platform (c.f. Figure 1) that offers user friendly, plug and play solutions for end-users from the manufacturing industry.
In the last decade, the robotic market already pushed the boundaries of technology beyond all expectations. We nowadays live in an era where many tasks can either be done autonomously by a robot or in collaboration with humans. In this context, we increasingly hear the terms “connected factories”, “intelligent factories”, or “cloud robotics”. But what are exactly the new aspects that SHOP4CF will bring to the market? The goal in SHOP4CF is to find the right balance between cost-effective automation of repetitive tasks and the significant involvement of human workers in areas, in which the human worker can play out its strengths like adaptability, creativity, and agility. Moreover, the project pursues the vision of highly connected factories to reap the benefits of data that is generated on the shopfloor.
In SHOP4CF, 30 different components are developed by top research and technology organizations from all over Europe. Components are tested in pilots and are an important aspect of the project as they serve as a first test of the developed components and will hence pave the way for the final real-world adoption, for instance, in a production line. For this purpose, SHOP4CF will collaboratively work with four European industrial leaders providing large-scale pilots. Moreover, adoption is fostered by 30 FSTP Pilots that are selected through five competitive open calls, where new partners join the consortium and will receive technical, business support. In this context, the marketplace is intended to work as a all-purpose, one-stop shop for SMEs (e.g., independent developers of new components and end users) to access essential services supporting their digital transformation processes like business modeling, technical support as well as access to the community and finance.
In SHOP4CF, we strongly believe that the community will measure the success of the project. Hence, building a vibrant, active and growing community around the platform is necessary to achieve the critical mass for adoption. Another important task within the project, is the pre-standardization activities in the areas of collaborative robotics, AGVs and the use of IoT devices on the shopfloor. Additionally, SHOP4CF will continue its operations with a self-sustainable non-profit association with members all over Europe that could be integrated in further entities like the DIH2 that supports SMEs on the transformation to smart factories by generating innovations that maximizes the productivity while optimizing the agility in manufacturing. Finally, we strongly believe that SHOP4CF will demonstrate that public funded research can help SMEs & Mid-Caps to achieve digital excellence and global competitiveness through adopting advanced robotics solutions in human-centric digitalization.
Twenty partners work on a comprehensive software platform allowing to conveniently obtain and deploy a wide range of components selected to cover a broad spectrum of industrial requirements especially in the context of modern, flexible and data-rich manufacturing. The overall vision of SHOP4CF is that tomorrow’s production will require both machine capabilities like high accuracy, precision, or endurance and human assets such as creativity, adaptability, or tactile sense. All components considered in SHOP4CF aim at the mutual complementarity of human workers and machines. In order to facilitate rapid adoption, great emphasis is placed on user-friendliness, reusability, inter-connectivity and accessibility, which is achieved mainly through two key elements: (1) Digital marketplace: components can be conveniently obtained by a web-based interface, (2) unified platform: all components are developed using a single point of integration to ensure a high degree of interconnectivity and compatibility.
The basic idea behind the digital platform developed in SHOP4CF is that a high degree of simplicity in setting up automation processes allows the human worker to focus on the problem-solving task where their creativity comes into play. To this end, a unique infrastructure is developed that serves as a single point of integration to easily deploy, orchestrate, and develop components that cover a wide range of different tasks in modern manufacturing environments. The idea of achieving a high degree of reusability is similar to the open source software movement and can lead to high cost efficiency and low access barriers to solutions from competitors. This modern approach is an appealing alternative to the classical approach of rebuilding solutions to specific problems from scratch. To make this vision work, a highly modular approach is envisaged, from which people can creatively select and combine modules to holistically address specific problems without being overwhelmed by technical issues. We believe that this approach can significantly accelerate human-driven innovation in manufacturing process design.
In SHOP4CF, we strive to build a holistic ecosystem that facilitates communication, collaboration, knowledge and technology transfer in a community that includes SMEs, universities, research institutes and system integrators. It is worth noting that non-classical approaches (an example for a classical approaches is the rigid programming of industrial robots), which involve humans as an essential part, usually require advanced, interdisciplinary methods. Hence, knowledge transfer takes place not only between component developers, but also between disciplines within universities and research institutes to develop techniques based on other disciplines:
- Biology (e.g., employing (spiking) neural networks)
- Psychology (e.g., reinforcement learning)
- Physics (e.g., advanced models for digital twins to simulate real world dynamics)
SHOP4CF community is seen as the heart of our project. A lot of the project’s performance indicators are focused on the establishment as well as on the development of the SHOP4CF community. This is really important for us in order to ensure the continuity of the project even after the funding phase. Additionally, we strongly believe that except the architecture and the actual framework of the project, collaborations are also a key element that we need to take into account when we are talking about project’s impact.
The concept behind SHOP4CF can have a strong positive impact on the labour market as people in manufacturing are not simply replaced by automated processes but gain new importance as a complement to machines. However, another implication is that new rules are being developed within SHOP4CF to address novel issues related to privacy, security, safety, legal aspects, or data ownership. It is worth noting that a successful digital platform that meets the described requirements can significantly increase the level of automation and maintain the competitive edge of European companies in the manufacturing sector.
To achieve the human-robot collaboration, we are asked to improve the human-device interaction using augmented, virtual reality, and digital twins. The utilization of human capabilities like abstract reasoning and the optimization of human-machine collaboration are the most important targets in SHOP4CF. In many industrial applications, human labor keeps playing an important role even in repeatable and non-creative tasks. Many of these tasks require monotonous motions leading to increased fatigue and a lack of attention. This in turn leads to more accidents, ultimately resulting in increased stress of the worker. To mitigate such challenges, a set of augmented / virtual reality tools were developed in various projects by different partners associated in the SHOP4CF project. Those components include, for example, virtual planning of safety behavior, augmented reality projection of assembly instructions or digital twins of production lines to monitor the condition. The relevance of those tools has been already validated in different research projects and verified in various research scenarios. In SHOP4CF, the results of different research initiatives focused on the investigation of augmented / virtual reality methods in manufacturing environments will be combined into a unified platform.
SHOP4CF platform will provide technological solutions that will improve the well-being and working conditions of human workers, automatizing monotonous and exhaustive tasks and increasing their productivity due to technological support. In order to contribute to the human-robot collaboration on the shopfloor, SHOP4CF develops and integrates components and supporting tools to the platform that lead to a great support in the different stages of the manufacturing process. The set of components will provide functionalities related to IoT, robotics, AI, Big Data and HMI. Moreover, the supporting tools will facilitate the design and deployment of the human-centric manufacturing processes. The components and supporting tools are highly designed to best complement the collaboration between human & technology. SHOP4CF fosters the ability to swiftly adapt the manufacturing capacities and will ensure the safety of the human operators while working in a highly robotic and digitized environment.
Another important point is the technological validation and migration paths towards industrial deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies by SMEs. Utilization of research outputs is usually problematic as the transition of investigation results to industry is typically not straightforward. In many cases, the research is performed under isolated conditions with specific technological solutions (non-industrial hardware and software platforms). An industrial partner to be able to use the technology would first need to reimplement the results of research into industry-ready platform before he could validate the results. Such challenge, in many cases deters potential interested SMEs from validating new, advanced technologies. In many industries the companies do not possess enough resources to introduce the aforementioned technologies and therefore might find the transition to robotization and digitalization troublesome. Removing the entry barriers to introduce and validate new technologies would significantly improve the accessibility of state-of-the-art inventions and would simplify the path to the migration.
SHOP4CF aims for overcoming these challenges by bringing together the results of different research projects into a unified, human-oriented platform which is easily deployable and user-friendly. The ultimate goal is to allow robotic, automation and AI technologies to be deployed by SMEs with minimal effort. The SHOP4CF platform will be started with a set of components validated by big industrial players with the intention to evolve into a community-based platform where everyone can develop its components and share them with others. The unification of interfaces that SHOP4CF aims for will allow easy integration and cross-industry applicability.
We are in the dawn of a new era in robotics where humans and robots will collaborate and work together in way that never done before. SHOP4CF is listening the needs of the market, wants to ensure the human centered approach if this process and provide to the customers innovative solutions. This will define the right balance between the cost-effective automation, repetitive tasks as well as, involvement of human workers in areas such as adaptability, creativity, and agility where they create the biggest added value.