Copernico to help design factories of the future

07 June 2010

The AMRC is leading a new Euro5.2m project to help develop the factories of the future.

The COPERNICO project - Cooperation Environment for Rapid Design, Prototyping and New Integration Concepts for the Factory of the Future - is developing techniques to help businesses maximise the efficiency of their factories, and rapidly integrate new products and processes.

COPERNICO involves five universities and research institutes, and 10 industrial and SME partners, from across Europe. Delegates from all partners met at the AMRC in early June to launch the four-year project.

"The idea for the COPERNICO project came from our industrial members," says AMRC research director Professor Keith Ridgway. "A common problem is how to get through the initial production stage - how do companies move through that stage as quickly as possible, and what modelling tools can they use to aid the decisions? COPERNICO aims to reduce the time and cost to introduce new products and processes, and reduce the time to redesign and reconfigure factory systems."

Research will be driven by real-life case studies provided by the industrial partners. UK power systems group Rolls-Royce has identified three case studies, including the design and layout of its new civil nuclear manufacturing facility (which will be built close to the AMRC in South Yorkshire). And Italian home appliances group Electrolux will work with COPERNICO researchers to improve the efficiency of its manufacturing facilities and supply chains.

Helping smaller businesses to become more competitive is an important part of COPERNICO. Case studies are also being provided by Sheffield-based Footprint Tools and Italian automotive supplier Temco, which both want to grow by developing new high-value manufacturing services within Europe.

COPERNICO will deploy and develop a range of technologies, including modelling of human-machine interactions, virtual simulation of factory environments, and online software tools to help businesses diagnose areas for improvement.

The AMRC team will initially concentrate on developing a new system to analyse a company's operations by examining its evolutionary history. This cladistic approach will help businesses identify the steps they need to take to improve efficiency. "There are several million manufacturing SMEs across Europe," says Dr Jim Baldwin, technical coordinator for COPERNICO at the AMRC. "The challenge is to integrate the vast amount of information about them, and produce new tools which can be used by a wide range of manufacturing businesses."

COPERNICO partners are: University of Sheffield AMRC, UK; University of Nottingham, UK; University of Brescia, Italy; Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary; Fraunhofer IPA, Germany; Rolls-Royce, UK; Electrolux, Italy; Delcam, Netherlands; Footprint Tools, UK; Virtalis, UK; Temco, Italy; Teks, France; Cesi, Italy; Prorec, Germany; and Gamax, Hungary. The project is part-funded by the European Commission through the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).