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

Production and manufacturing are caught between massive deployments of digital processes in engineering, deep-reaching changes in the products themselves with the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT) or “object-oriented Internet,” the advent of several breakthrough technologies such as additive manufacturings (using 3D printers) and we are seeing now the outlines of a real industrial revolution in the making. What this implies is a more connected, more competitive, more agile industry, capable of innovating faster, producing better and at lower costs – including for very small series of products, even down to ‘one-off’ products, more economical in raw materials, in energy consumption …

These are some of the decisive challenges for enterprises and in a wider context for developed countries, “Industrie du future” (France), “Industrie 4.0” (Germany), “Smart Manufacturing” ( USA), “Made In China 2025” (China) … Many have already prepared and adopted a national strategic plan in this respect to accelerate the changes, the finality of which depends on local realities. In France, for example, we had to commit ourselves to ‘territorial industrial renewal’ and to stop delocalization, while “Industrie 4.0” in Germany aims at preserving the leadership of German industries.

These challenges are strategic for UTC too. In particular, our research scientists are investigating two main ‘pillars’ of tomorrow’s industrial scene, the data from which will prove to be a key asset. On one hand, we have a continuum of digital information pervading engineering and production processes. On the other hand, we have the specialty called data analytics: automated analysis of data recorded during and via the digital continuum, transforming them into new ‘knowledge’ and leading on to product design and manufacturing process optimization, production quality and predictive maintenance for industrial tools and machines. Our scientists have likewise launched research in additive manufacturing using various metal alloys.

 The positive contribution of pluridisciplinarity

“What makes our approach to these subjects original”, underlines Benoît Eynard, research scientist at the UTC-Roberval Laboratory, “is that, in the first instance, it is systemic. UTC takes the position of being less a developer of specific technologies (robotisation, automation and control) and more an integrator, raising questions such as ‘how do you ensure these component bricks fit together in a future industrial landscape system?’. Faced with the complex issues that stem from questions like this, UTC has the advantage of being a pluridisciplinary HE institution, hence the holistic approach we have adopted”. UTC can mobilize, in parallel, its special skills, in mechanical engineering, process and chemical engineering, in computer sciences and their applications (ICTs), but also those from social sciences and humanities.

Thanks to this pluri-cultured dimension, UTC can integrate technological and social facets, and come up with proposals that are “with humans” and not “despite humans”. “We totally share the French vision of industries in the future, viz., not a 100% robotized factory floor”, explains Jérôme Favergeon, Director of the UTC Roberval Lab. “We agree, of course, that any repetitive tasks can and should be automated, but humans must remain at the centre of the process for all added-value tasks. That is the reason, above all other considerations, why we are focusing on methodologies and aids to decision, in order to make their tasks easier to perform”.

The really specific feature of UTC is that it cares out its research engagements on the industries of the future in partnership agreements with both major Groups and SMEs, thus enabling our University to propose the most relevant solution, taking them to a higher level of maturity that would be possible if we acted alone. In order to cultivate this highly rewarding approach, we are planning to create an Open lab: one which will associate academic and industrial partners’ strengths and embodying an open, collaborative logic.