University researchers in Cardiff are working on £1.5 million project to develop connected products that can converse with the chatty factories in which they were created.
Imagine a bike helmet that could send a text message to your smartphone to say that it had developed a crack. That information could then be instantly sent to the helmet’s manufacturer, too, alerting the manufacturer of the problem and enabling it, if necessary, to adjust its processes and improve the next batch of products.
This idea of people, products and production processes being intrinsically connected is the vision of a brand new £1.5 million project that is being led by scientists at Cardiff University.
Set to run for three years, the project aims to tap into the emerging IoT industry and the increasing numbers of everyday items that can ‘talk’ with each other, to find new uses for those conversations in smart product design processes.
Dubbed “Chatty Factories”, the project aims to help companies aiming to build and sell connected products to save significant amounts of time and money that might otherwise be spent on consumer research, concept design, prototyping and manual labour on the factory floor.
The researchers believe that connected technology is the answer to inefficiencies in manufacturing. By embedding sensors into daily products, they believe that it’s possible to improve product designs based on data from users. In other words, there’s really business value to be had from the ‘chatty’ transfer of data that goes on between people, products and factories.
Principal investigator Dr Pete Burnap, from Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science and Informatics, said this technology could be game-changing for manufacturers.
“The current manufacturing process is limited by the inability to quickly and continuously refine product design based on a consumer’s experience, and simultaneously re-skill the human and robotic processes on the factory floor,” he said.
The idea of using real-time data from sensors has already made huge waves in industries such as aviation, although it’s not used for generating new products.
Much work to do
Over the next few years, the researchers will develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology capable of handling large datasets. They’ll also look at ways sensors can be included in everyday products.
At the same time, they’ll be watching the latest advances in cyber security, too, in order to create safe, secure and robust processes.
Funded by by UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research (EPSRC), the project also involves scientists from the University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham, Lancaster University and Bath Spa University.
“If manufacturers are creating high-end bikes worth thousands of pounds, but they are not being used as they are intended, how do we update the fabrication issues and reshuffle the factory floor between shifts, telling human and robot workers how to alter their duties within minutes?” asked Burnap.
“Our new method will enable manufacturers to sense the experience of the product, building something based on its actual use, rather than its intended use.”