Open Competition 3 - Information Technology
A Service-oriented Industrial Automation Middleware for Adaptable, Reconfigurable Control Systems
Develop industrial middleware that allows control engineers to design new control systems or adapt and reconfigure existing systems rapidly and intuitively, enabling agile manufacturing operations that can respond effectively to changing markets and competition.
Sponsor: Starthis, Inc.10600 W. Higgins Road
Rosemont, IL 60018
Optimized to enable efficient, defect-free manufacturing of a particular product line, factory control systems can be an obstacle when companies seek the agility needed to introduce new offerings responsive to fast-changing domestic and global markets and to new technological opportunities. Today, most control devices use vendor specific communication protocols that are proprietary and often times customized, at considerable expense, to a particular manufacturing business. Significant changes in production behavior necessitate costly, time-consuming overhauls. In this three-year project, Starthis proposes to develop middleware (software that assists in the interactions among applications, hardware, and other components of networked systems) that enables engineers to design and reconfigure control systems "on the fly," without becoming immersed in the technical particulars of different vendors' software and hardware. The middleware would enable manufacturing agility through real-time monitoring of production processes and the capability to modify and reorganize these processes in response to changing demand, quality requirements, or other factors. The company's "open vendor" approach to achieving factory-level interoperability builds on a patent-pending method that treats machine tools and other equipment as services. Starthis will use a novel mix of Sun Microsystem's Jini and Enterprise Java Bean technologies to integrate these services within an overarching enterprise level information architecture. The anticipated result is a tool set of highly scalable and intuitive techniques for systems analysis and controller design. As subcontractors, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago will investigate and assist in developing the algorithms that will underlie these techniques. Achieving a middleware solution that accommodates all of the many types of controllers used in today's manufacturing operations will be a significant challenge. In addition, Starthis will have to demonstrate that its tool set optimizes the design or reconfiguration of control systems, rather than merely succeeding in linking system components. The open-system, infrastructural technology that Starthis will develop has traditionally been overlooked by the venture capital community, which invests in areas that generate higher rates of return. Starthis will develop a technology that is infrastructural with the majority of benefits spread across the industry. A successful middleware product could benefit businesses in most manufacturing industries, providing an important means to improving productivity and to make manufacturing of customized or small-batch products cost efficient.