HORSE Develops Architecture for Robotic/Human Manufacturing Control
The use of advanced robots in manufacturing is becoming more and more commonplace in industry. Where robots used to be applied mainly in large, high-tech manufacturing plants, their application becomes increasingly accessible for a diverse range of manufacturing companies, including SMEs in both high-tech and other industry domains. The ‘traditional’ use of robots in manufacturing is, however, not always very flexible and efficient. Firstly, this is caused by safety concerns for human workers in the same physical space. Therefore, spaces in which robots work and spaces in which humans work are often physically separated, leading to inflexibility and inefficiency. Secondly, the inflexibility is also caused by work allocation: robots have their specific tasks and human workers too. It is not easy to transfer tasks from one class to the other, which may lead to inefficiency in resource usage. Thirdly, robot control processes are often poorly integrated in overall, end-to-end manufacturing processes. Robot control processes are focused on the operation within individual manufacturing work cells, whereas end-to-end processes are focused on the operation across work cells and the connection to enterprise information processing.
The HORSE project is set up to address these three issues. HORSE is a European Research and Innovation Project in the EU Horizon 2020 Framework. HORSE runs from 2015 to 2020 and brings together 15 organizations, among which there are research institutes, technology providers, and manufacturing organizations (see http://www.horse-project.eu/). HORSE aims at designing, developing and testing an integrated software environment that explicitly supports (1) safe collaboration of human and robotic workers in the same physical environment, (2) flexible, dynamic allocation of manufacturing tasks to robotic workers, human workers, and hybrid teams of both, and (3) integration of vertical, within-cell manufacturing processes with horizontal, across-cell processes and linkage of these to enterprise-wide business processes.
The HORSE software environment has to fulfil ambitious requirements and hence has a complex internal structure. To manage this complexity, a separation has been made between the logical structure of the system and the technological, concrete realization of the software. This separation has been guided by the ‘Kruchten 4+1’ framework for software architecture, which is a well-known standard in the software engineering world. This summer, the logical structure of the system has been officially delivered as the HORSE Logical Architecture. The architecture includes the specification of the structure of the software at five levels of aggregation, complemented by the specification of the structure of the involved manufacturing concepts, manufacturing processes, and manufacturing organization. The architecture is set up to comply with the IEC reference standard for manufacturing. It covers all levels from step-wise robot control and human actor instruction within a manufacturing cell via multi-actor manufacturing tasks up to manufacturing process control at the level of production lines and manufacturing plants. An impression of the HORSE Logical Architecture is given in the accompanying figure.
External interest in the architecture has already been raised, as parts of it will be presented at both the 2016 European Conference on Service-Oriented and Cloud Computing in Vienna (Austria) and the 2016 IEEE International Conference on Cloud Networking in Pisa (Italy).