Research Themes

Smart Factories and Products

Smart innovations in the manufacturing industry are required to secure the welfare and wellbeing of the developed countries. Smart machines and robots communicate and interact with each other and their users, track errors and solve problems, and carry out on-demand maintenance. Smart industries optimizes the human-machine interaction, yields faster, cheaper and more sustainable production, and enables on-demand production (mass customization) at the highest quality.  Business models will change, leading to the fusion of industry and services. The industry hopes to enable better, personalized products and services, and to improve efficient, adaptive, and flexible production, provisioning, and supply-chain processes.  

SBE - Institute of Engineering addresses five main topics within the theme Smart Factories and Products: (1) Advanced Manufacturing, (2) Robotics and Mechatronics, (3) Predictive Maintenance, (4) Human Centered Design, and (5) Business Models for dynamic company networks.   

Advanced Manufacturing

Integrated sensors and control play a crucial role towards zero defect manufacturing. A significant reduction in scrap-rate is achieved by measuring intermediate process data and knowing how to correct deviations before the product is finished. In addition to feedback loops, with which next-in-line products can be improved, feed-forward control is used to improve accuracy of the current product. Research in this area focuses on nonlinear process (chain) modelling, advanced materials, robust optimization and model-based control.

Additive manufacturing (AM) is a relatively new field of research that focusses on processes that produce full functional products layer by layer. These processes are able to shape complex products and assemblies in small series and at minimal labour costs, making Additive Manufacturing one of the game changers for Smart Industry. Current research themes within AM include process modelling and optimization, development of AM processes for new materials, development of AM processes for multi-material applications (metal/plastic, metal/ceramic), new AM based models for product design and AM process and product certification.  

Robotics and Mechatronics

As technical systems have become increasingly complex, a multidisciplinary approach is required to design and develop mechatronic products, processes and systems by a combination of mechanical, electrical, systems and control engineering. Industrial robots are mechatronic systems that are becoming more popular as manufacturing equipment due to their versatility in deployment, large work envelopes and relatively low investment costs. Incorporating industrial robots in production processes can enable industry to become more agile and cost-efficient. In Smart Industry scenarios, smart robots will take on a range of production tasks (production, inspection, transportation) and will behave as smart production entities based on local intelligence that reacts to data from sensor-rich production environments. Robots will become flexible and social compliant and interact freely in an industrial environment. However, the state-of-the-art task control strategies in manufacturing facilities still lack the flexibility needed for this future scenario. Current research focusses on decentralized and mixed control strategies that will enable maximal flexibility and extensibility of systems of cooperating robots. Important research directions addressed are the dynamic balancing of high-speed robotic manipulators and self-adaptive grippers for robotics and MEMS applications, smart compliant mechanisms, extended actuation, vibration reduction techniques, shape and topology optimization, lightweight design, and systems engineering. 

Predictive Maintenance

Maintenance is vital in ensuring the availability, reliability and cost effectiveness of technical systems. The research field ranges from physics of failure (failure modelling, life prediction) and structural health and condition monitoring to data analysis, maintenance process optimization and logistic challenges in resource planning. Integration of these disciplines is key as maintenance is a multidisciplinary and dynamic process, based on changes in both the system and its environment. The disruptive challenge is to transfer fixed time interval maintenance to on-demand, remote operated maintenance strategies.

Human Centered Design

Personalization of products and mass customization offer great benefits for future users of products. Producers need to design and produce flexible solutions rather than one single outcome which will require adjustments in production processes and in dealing with personalized orders. Design research by means of its methods and tools can support in the realization of an iterative, human-centered co-creation process in the design of new personalized product and product-service systems. Research employs empirical methods and tools to explore new forms of innovation through co-creation of value, system thinking, human-technology interaction and scenario-based, user-oriented product design. 

Business Models for dynamic company networks

Rigid supply chain mechanisms and product-based business models will change into collaborative and robust production networks that are able to timely deliver innovative product-services in dynamic and unpredictable global environments. Innovative business models are based on a dynamic network of companies, continuously moving and changing in order to afford more and more complex compositions of services. The management of complexity in product and processes as well as the decentralization in case of smart factories is a real future challenge. Key research lines are the design and implementation of new business models that allow the active integration of customers, to evolve business models into efficient and effective mechanisms based on co-creation competences, customer intimacy within an information-based business approach and the contribution of co-creation approach to the creation of customer intimacy. Methods and computer tools are developed for quickly setting up new supply chain configurations and implementing reconfigurable and co-evolving production cells.