The European manufacturing industry needs to embrace the Industry 4.0 revolution in order to remain globally competitive. Although this is relatively straightforward for big industry, the SMEs face a number of difficulties in the process, mainly the lack of expertise, highly qualified workforce and resources needed to refurbish the whole business in one step. Moreover, there is still some reluctance present, as the benefits of digitizing the business are not always immediately clear and visible. Finally, it is crucial to understand, that digitization encompasses much more than just buying and setting up an industrial robot.

The HORSE Framework answers to those problems. HORSE Framework is built on RAMI architecture specification,and is aligned with Internet of Things architecture and concepts. It facilitates advanced, process-oriented hybrid manufacturing. Process-oriented hybrid manufacturing is an approach to manufacturing that seamlessly integrates human and robotic actors in vertical manufacturing cells that are horizontally coupled in end-to-end manufacturing processes.   

The HORSE framework supports this approach in an advanced way as it covers dynamic actor allocation to work cells, direct robot control and human actor instruction, closed-loop local event processing and near-real-time global event processing. It specifies the operational deployment of a cyber-physical system that adopts the framework in manufacturing production lines. The HORSE framework consists of several software components that can be grouped into three main groups: the core components, the interfaces, and the case-specific ones (see HFW supporting document. The first group contains the cyber components responsible for management of the whole manufacturing process, the MPMS – Manufacturing Process Management System and for execution of tasks in the work cell, the HTS - Hybrid Task Supervisor. They can be successfully used regardless of the actual scope of the use case. The interfaces contain both the HORSE middleware, which is essential to communication between the components of the framework, and the interfaces connecting the framework to other systems e.g. the Bosch infrastructure or ROS components. Finally, the case-specific components provide functionalities required by concrete applications. Those may involve robot control, trajectory planning, augmented reality etc. Their development is usually driven by a specific use-case; however, they can be adapted to similar scenarios with minimal effort.

Therefore, each HORSE deployment includes the MPMS (level 3) and the middleware (level 2). The first one is necessary to define, execute and monitor the process. The second one, the middleware provides communication capabilities for the heterogeneous components of the framework. Depending on the realized scenario the HTS can be also used to trigger and synchronize tasks on the level of individual work cells.

The case specific components may be adapted and used in different scenarios if they fit the requirements. Although reusing the existing software is strongly recommended, new components can be integrated as well, as long as they are connected to the messaging middleware of HORSE.

At the bottom of the HORSE architecture (level 1) lay the agents that execute the production tasks being any kind of maching (robotic arms, AGVs or other production machinery, sensors and things that are necessary for controlling and monitoring the production and humans).

HORSE-Wiki-Fig10

Figure 10: HORSE Framework

Challenges of SMEs addressed by HORSE Framework

In manufacturing, there are typically situations with rather fragmented automated support for manufacturing processes and activities (if available at all). Different systems may be in place for setting up and executing manufacturing batches, allocating tasks to human workers in manufacturing, supervising product flows, and controlling robotic solutions where these are used. Where robots are not used, availability of integrated software solutions may be one of the problems. This leads to sub-optimal situations with little integration between high-level processes (on the factory level) and low-level activities (at the work cell level) on the one hand, and little integration between the activities of human workers and robots on the other hand, or even the absence of robotic solutions where these could bring big benefits. Consequently, there is lack of flexibility in the assignment of workers and robots, unnecessary waiting times in production, idling robots, inefficient transfer of information between the dispersed systems, and ineffective, ad-hoc handling of exceptions in the manufacturing process (such as a malfunctioning work cell).

Technical characteristics of HORSE Framework

The HORSE Framework promotes a modular solution with clearly defined functional elements and interfaces. The key characteristics of HORSE framework of interest to developers, integrators and service providers are:

  • Clear interfaces that allow replacement of modules and integration of new ones:
    • OSGi plugins to the existing OSGi nodes;
    • New ROS components;
    • Modules based on other technologies;
  • A scalable messaging middleware that
    • is based on a widely accepted communication protocol (WebSocket)
    • is exchanging well-structured JSON formatted messages
    • permits encryption of the payload or the entire communication channel
    • offers reusable components (messaging agents) in Java (OSGi) and Python
    • features bridges to ROS and OSGi
    • supports prioritisation of the messages
  • Web services standards simplifies integration to manufacturing technology, making the HORSE System suitable for factories with existing and heterogeneous robotic solutions.

HORSE Framework value for SMEs

The HORSE framework addresses SMEs challenges in an integrated way. HORSE covers both the global level of manufacturing processes (at the factory or production line level) and the local level of individual manufacturing activities (within specific work cells). It addresses both the set-up of processes and functions at these levels, and the real-time execution of processes and activities. 

HORSE framework is customizable and modular; not only it provides important tools which can be adapted to the specific needs of each SME, but new and legacy hardware and software is able to be integrated and used within the framework.

The principles of flexibility and standardisation provide the following benefits:

  • HORSE framework enables and simplifies adoption of robotic manufacturing solutions for SMEs.
  • Compliance with international standards and best practices notation (RAMI, OSGi, ROS, OPC-UA, etc. ) ensures applicability to any discrete or batch production facility.
  • The modular design supports adaptation to different situations and a variety of challenges faced by manufacturing industry SMEs – not every SME context requires the full HORSE framework; production resources can easily be added, deleted or updated.
  • Seamless integration between HORSE System modules and openness to external technology (such as robotic platforms and sensors) makes Industry 4.0 technologies removes development barriers and reduces relative costs.
  • The explicit manufacturing process management approach (at the global level of the HORSE System) allows for high levels of flexibility in manufacturing process design, thereby opening ways for easy re-use of manufacturing activities and underlying manufacturing infrastructure, and evolution towards mass-customization of products.
  • The dynamic allocation of production resources (such as workers and robots) in manufacturing processes is a strong basis for improved process efficiency, leading to shorter throughput times of manufacturing processes and higher resource utilization.
  • The provided high-level overview of the status of the manufacturing process at the production line level and manufacturing activities at the work cell level ensures that the operational management of manufacturing facilities has an up-to-date view of the real-time status of businesses.

The European manufacturing industry needs to embrace the Industry 4.0 revolution in order to remain globally competitive. Although doing that may be relatively straightforward for big industry, the SMEs face a number of difficulties in the process, mainly the lack of expertise, highly qualified workforce and resources needed to refurbish the whole business in one step. Moreover, there is still some reluctance present, as the benefits of digitizing the business are not always immediately clear and visible. Finally, it is crucial to understand, that digitization encompasses much more than just buying and setting up an industrial robot.

The HORSE Framework answers to those problems. HORSE Framework is built on RAMI architecture, and facilitates advanced, process-oriented hybrid manufacturing. Process-oriented hybrid manufacturing is an approach to manufacturing that seamlessly integrates human and robotic actors in vertical manufacturing cells that are horizontally coupled in end-to-end manufacturing processes.   

The HORSE framework supports this approach in an advanced way as it covers dynamic actor allocation to work cells, direct robot control and human actor instruction, closed-loop local event processing and near-real-time global event processing.

The framework is consists of the basic, universal skeleton, which is used in every HORSE deployment scenario. This skeleton consists of:

  • the Manufacturing Process Management System used to describe and control the whole manufacturing process,
  • the HORSE middleware providing standardized means of communication between the components, and
  • the Hybrid Task Supervisor coordinating human operators and robots on the workcell level.

This lightweight skeleton is then tailored to the needs of the concrete application by adding reusable, easy to develop case-specific components such as the robot control, augmented reality instructions, safety modules etc.

HORSE software components are designed to be easy to customize, use and reprogram, limiting the necessity for highly knowledgeable and qualified personnel. Even more important is the fact, that the framework is easily scalable. Therefore, it is possible to start the digitization with one part of the process (a production line, or even just a single workcell) and then just expand once the framework proves its usefulness and additional resources are acquired.  

Manufacturing SMEs usually cannot commit to having a single-task robot and their employees also need to be assigned to different tasks depending on the current needs. The flexible and dynamic approach of tasks monitoring and allocation in the HORSE framework is one of its more important features. As a result, the state of resources is continuously monitored and both human and robot agents are assigned to tasks according to their individual capabilities and the current project needs. Thus, the overall efficiency within a production shop-floor can be greatly improved.