Chris Brown stands in a laboratory with a bright orange piece of robotic equipment in the foreground. He has gray hair, is smiling, and is wearing glasses, khaki pants, and a light blue button-down shirt.

Preparing Businesses for Industry 4.0

Fall workshop to benefit small and medium businesses

July 12, 2017
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WPI will be helping small and medium enterprises to have some of the same opportunities larger corporations have when it comes to implementing Industry 4.0 in their companies, thanks to a workshop to be held on campus on September 28, 2017.

With funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement 734713, the workshop is part of a larger project called “SME 4.0: Industry 4.0 for SMEs.” It aims to identify and eventually solve the most important requirements and obstacles faced by small- and medium-sized enterprises when it comes to introducing Industry 4.0 concepts into their businesses.

Worcester has been a cradle of previous industrial revolutions in America. The next, fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 builds upon the three past revolutions (water and steam power, electrical power, and automation) to give cyber physical production systems (CPPS) more responsibility in accomplishing tasks and making decisions.

Industry 4.0 is a step beyond robots simply completing repetitive tasks through automation. It focuses on using CPPS—thinking machines that are connected to the IOT (Internet of Things)—to complete work, solve production problems, and control machines.

“Some SMEs could need help teaming up robots with vision systems to look at items and figure out what to do with them,” explains Chris Brown, mechanical engineering professor at WPI and the university’s scientific coordinator for the workshop. “And Industry 4.0 can go beyond that, with access to more information.”

“The objective of this project is to learn how to keep small and medium businesses competitive with Industry 4.0. They need help taking advantage of Industry 4.0 because they don’t have the resources large companies have. So this project is largely about figuring out what they need and how to get it to them.” -Chris Brown

The three-year project is directed by the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy, with other participants from Montanuniversität Leoben in Austria; the Technical University of Košice and Elcom SRO in Slovakia; Chiang Mai University in Thailand; and the SACS MAVMM Engineering College in India in addition to WPI and MIT. Professors, post docs, and doctoral students from these universities will also visiting WPI to work with Brown and Andrew Vickery, a doctoral student in the manufacturing engineering program.

“The objective of this project is to learn how to keep small and medium businesses competitive with Industry 4.0,” explains Brown. “They need help taking advantage of Industry 4.0 because they don’t have the resources large companies have. So this project is largely about figuring out what they need and how to get it to them.”

WPI became involved in the project through Brown’s expertise in axiomatic design, which was developed by Nam Suh at MIT in the 70s. It makes design a scientific discipline, in that it has two axioms (laws or rules) that can be used to solve a wide variety of problems. Suh, who received his first honorary doctorate from WPI, is the former director of engineering at NSF, and recently retired as president of the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology.

Twelve local (to-be-determined) small- and medium-sized enterprises will be invited to the workshop to learn more about the overall project and Industry 4.0 in general, then work with the experts to determine the different requirements and obstacles they would face in implementing Industry 4.0 concepts into their businesses. According to Brown, one of the main things he and the other members of the workshop need to focus on is making sure whatever system they craft be adaptable, allowing for the businesses to use it to best help their respective situations.

Following the workshop, the project’s research team will offer each enterprise a personalized report on how Industry 4.0 can best be implemented at their locations. Entrepreneurs and managers of small- or medium-sized enterprises who are interested in participating in this free event are advised to email gkminnich@wpi.edu by September 8.

- By Allison Racicot