44: Industry in the Future: UTC an academic partner for enterprise

The ongoing digital transformation of industry is a major societal challenge. For UTC, accompanying a growing number of companies during the changes, the phenomenon represents an increasingly strategic field for studies. This Dossier zooms in on the university’s main activities and on the specific nature of its approach to the industries of the future.

44: Industry in the Future: UTC an academic partner for enterprise

A joint lab. on Digital Continuity

In 2013, UTC-Roberval Lab joined forces with DeltaCAD , a service sector and software editor company, specialized in product lifecycle management, in CAD and in digital modelling, in the framework of an ANR programme (French Research Agency) setting up a joint ‘LabCom” laboratory structure Dimexp (Digital Mock-up for Multi-Expertise Integration).

Dimexp has been assigned two fields of investigation. The first concerns the continuity factor for information between a real product and its virtual, digital twin. The research team is developing a set of algorithms to be used to identify a physical object, with a set of possible applications. “Among such applications, there is product control inspections on a production line”, explains Alexandre Durupt a UTC-Roberval research scientist ad science coordinator for the LabCom. “For example, on an engine assembly line, the operative would video each engine using an e-pad. The system would then automatically count the number of bolts inserted and check, real time that this number corresponds to the part list for that engine, via its digital mock-up. But this tool could also facilitate reverse engineering protocols: helping to build the digitale model for a product with a very long operational life expectancy, as would be the case for an industrial machine or a motor that were designed before CAD came to be, where a modern design evolution has become necessary”.

A digital twin

With this project, Dimexp is innovating on two scores. Firstly, its demonstrator allows the scientists to proceed from real objects to virtual models, whereas most digital protocols do the reverse, top down, so to speak, from top-down from model to product. We design, approve and certify, then industrialize the products virtually for the purpose of real manufacturing. But the digital chain stops there. “Our position is one we shall find among the paradigms of industries of the future”, notes Alexandre Durupt: “we embody the concept of a digital twin of a real object, for which no standardized definition exists as yet, but represents as we see it an integrated system of data, models and tools that enable us to track a product throughout its entire life-cycle and to transform the data into useful information to help in fault-finding and diagnosis and as a support to agile decisions”

To design this tool, the research scientists notably developed a deep-rooted neural network: an algorithm which learned how to recognize various combustion engine parts with an additional specific feature – to be able to handle heterogeneous data. The system can recognize a part from its 2D image, but also and this is new, from 3D models (CAD or digitized mock-ups for the parts examined).

Tracking inter-professional information exchanges

Secondly – and yet another research theme assigned to Dimexp: multidisciplinary collaboration between engineering team members. The LabCom is working on a collaborative “to do list”, with a tool designed to manage collaborative action lists to be used with an engineering project. The objective is to facilitate en enrich exchanges among the professions involved and more than this, to track progress and improve on the digital continuity factors. “Today, the PLM systems enable us to track the ‘history’ of the modifications carried out on the products as recorded in product or process manufacturing documents, but they do not indicate the reasons leading to the changes or the situation that led to the request for modification,” explains Mathieu Bricogne, one of the UTC research scientists. “The idea, with this “to-be-done” list is to be able to track a posteriori the reasons for the decisions made and to capitalize on this information for the next projects in the pursuit of continuous improvement”.

Another advantage: to be able to track exchange also provides indicators as to operational collaboration – and this opens the path towards a more agile form of project management. To better exploit this possibility, you can build a panel of indicators deemed representative of the exchanges among professional experts during an engineering project, by implementing automated data analysis techniques and this allows you to develop decision support tools to manage collaborative engineering more efficiently.

“Dimexp allows us to stay one step ahead”

Harvey Rowson, Project Manager at DeltaCAD answers our questions

From a DeltaCAD perspective, what is the interest in your having a joint lab with UTC-Roberval?

UTC-Roberval researchers provide their scientific and technological expertise, their capacity to draw u an international state of the art on a given issue. For us this is a real added value; it is one way of anticipating market trends, given that when a hurdle appears in scientific documents, it generally prefigures the announcement for a new industrial need. But more than this, Roberval enables us to plough more innovative and relevant furrows than those we might intuitively have chosen to explore. Dimexp allows us to stay “one step ahead” in respect to emergent topics that lie at the core of the challenges facing tomorrow’s industries.

How do you envisage valorising this research work?

The fundamental role devolved to Dimexp is to prove concept viability, with lab demonstrators such as TRL (technology readiness level, used to assess maturity before market launch), which is still relatively low. To increase the TRL value and develop real industrial scaled demonstrators, our objective is to sign partnerships with industrialists interested in these concepts.