Flexible Manufacturing Cell in Central Virginia

Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) is an applied research center providing production-ready advanced manufacturing solutions to our members.

CCAM Case Study
Date Created: August 1, 2019
Case study Title: The NIST funded Intelligent Flexible Manufacturing Cell

Open Standards Based Manufacturing

"How many times have you lost time or product due to miscommunicated requirements in the manufacturing process?" asks Mark White, CCAM Dimensional Metrology Research Engineer.

"The NIST cell currently under construction at CCAM aims to demonstrate how open standards may be used to clearly communicate product definitions from design, through manufacturing, and into inspection. In addition it looks into communication between machines and enabling rework of parts based on collected inspection/process data to minimize losses on the production floor.

Since open standards permit a consistent communication of requirements, process, and inspection data; they create an exciting value proposition for all members of the product value chain. For suppliers it allows them to right size software systems for their business rather than maintaining, and training in, unique packages for each customer.

For large OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) it allows for their requirements to be digested in an automated way by suppliers. Requirements are no longer missed due to the large man-power overhead that manual transfer requires. The open standards based manufacturing, as being developed at CCAMs NIST cell, promotes all points in the value chain."

Publications: Open Standards for Flexible Discrete
Manufacturing in the Model-Based Enterprise

"CCAM, An Open Case for Success" by IMTS 

CCAM-FlexMfgCell - Nist cell 3.5.19 v6(mezz)

A Model for the Nation for Years to Come

“I’m excited that this federal funding will support new technologies to strengthen our manufacturing industry. Investments in manufacturing are crucial as we work to boost economic development in the Commonwealth. I was proud to help bring CCAM to Virginia as Governor, and with the help of grants like this one, I’m confident the center will continue to be a model for the nation for many years to come.”

US Senator Tim Kaine

Project Partners

Executive Summary

The popularity of terms such as "digital thread", "Industry 4.0", and "Industrial Internet of Things" (IIoT) is emblematic of the technological advances in (and reducing costs of) sensing, computing, digitalization, data storage, and analytics. Additionally, Industry 4.0 is pushing manufacturing to become more distributed, intelligent, and with autonomy at the cell level. Driven by these advances and motivations, manufacturing is becoming more digitally integrated than ever, enabling new insight into production processes via data directly captured from PLCs, sensors, and signals at the process and machine level. As the "digital thread" becomes a more established paradigm for collecting relevant data from design to delivery (and through product lifecycle), processes can become more easily and more tightly controlled and optimized, resulting in better quality parts, increased productivity, and increased efficiency.

NIST Award: 70NANB19H083

The awarded NIST proposal develops and builds such a distributed manufacturing cell for the purpose of developing, integrating, and demonstrating the next generation of digital technology fueling the promise of Industry 4.0.

"The cyber-physical testbed will enable industry partners, standards organizations, and government partners to develop, test, and demonstrate new technologies, prove functional concepts, and test use cases that relate to flexible and distributed manufacturing processes," said CCAM Intelligent Factory Research Manager, Dr. Tim Bakker.

"As a leader in our industry, Newport News Shipbuilding is interested in collaboration opportunities that may advance Industry," said Newport News Shipbuilding Engineering Manager and CCAM Industrial Operations Board Chair, Dr. John W. Ralls. "We look forward to collaborating with CCAM, NIST, and other industrial partners as an outcome of this CCAM program."

Richard Blanchette 2

Richard Blanchette
CCAM Intelligent Factory Systems Engineer

3D Rendering of Flexible Manufacturing Cell


Some fundamental challenges to be addressed are the development of a strong communication framework or backbone for carrying data, as well as the semantics and context to drive individual decision making down to the machine or controller.

Some of these challenges can be addressed by standards (e.g., MTConnect [4], OPC UA [5], STEP AP242  [6], and QiF [7]) that provide common semantics, meta-data, and an established baseline for sharing various data types between manufacturing systems. Additionally, it is important to develop an understanding of the collected data in the context of work flow and production orders and how this pairing of data and context could drive intelligent and autonomous decisions at each unit or component.  Other aspects of autonomy requirements remain to be explored, including the number and fidelity of data sources, rate of storage, data aggregation, and bandwidth.

Developing New Standards and Technologies

In this project, CCAM proposes to develop a physical & digital testbed to address these opportunities and challenges. This reference implementation of a full digital and flexible manufacturing cell can be used for the development of new standards and technologies surrounding the digital thread and distributed manufacturing, targeting the following critical aspects:

  1. Enabling digital thread technology:  data standards, semantics, context, and
  2. Decentralization of control and synchronization
    to individual units (machines, sensors, equipment).
  3. Increased autonomy and decision making at the
    individual units based on situational- and self-awareness.
  4. Converged, secure IT/OT environment with
    micro-service capabilities at the edge.

The proposed reference implementation will be a self-contained (yet extensible) manufacturing cell with a dedicated digital infrastructure and capabilities for running micro-services at the edge.  The cell will be comprised of a heterogeneous set of equipment that can perform a set of individual process steps and can be automatically adaptable to variations in part designs, process flows, etc.  The cyber-physical testbed will enable industry partners, standards organizations, and government partners to develop, test, and demonstrate new technologies, prove functional concepts, and test use cases that relate to flexible and distributed manufacturing processes.

Flexible Manufacturing Cell

CCAM-FlexMfgCell - plan_do_study_act(KO-diagram)

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