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‘Chatty Factories’ project could save time and money

30 November 2017

Lancaster University is working on a £1.5m project to create a system in which products can ‘talk’ to the factory floor to transform the manufacturing process.

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The three-year project aims to take advantage of the rapid growth of the IoT, in which everyday items have the ability to ‘talk’ to each other and transmit massive amounts of useable data.

By embedding sensors into everyday products, the goal is to create one seamless process that is capable of continuously changing products based on data from the users.

The project could potentially save significant amounts of time and money spent on consumer research, concept design, prototyping and manual labour on the factory floor, as well as providing ideas for brand new products.

The idea of people, products and production processes being intrinsically connected is the project vision, which is being led by Cardiff University.

Dr Dan Richards, based at Lancaster University’s ‘Imagination Lancaster’ and a member of Lancaster University Data Science Institute, will lead the data-driven design research at Lancaster University.

“A major challenge for our vision of ‘chatty factories’ relates to how designers will be able to make sense of huge amounts of information from product sensors, how they will leverage the insights to generate sophisticated 3D designs, and how they will seamlessly communicate digital designs to the factory floor for robot-assisted fabrication," says Dr Richards.

“Over the next three-years our goal at Lancaster University is to imagine, develop and test entirely new types of ‘data-driven design software’ and ‘human-data interfaces’ to make this possible.” 

Over the next three years the project team will develop artificial intelligence to process large amounts of data, exploring ways in which sensors can be embedded into products, developing robots to re-skill the factory floors and making sure all of the interconnected products and processes are able to understand one another.

Each strand of research will be underpinned by the latest advances in cybersecurity, ensuring the creation of safe, secure and robust processes.

The project has been funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and also involves the University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham and Bath Spa University.

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