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The growing importance of manufacturing SMEs within the European economy, in terms of Gross Domestic Product and number of jobs, emphasizes the need of proper ICT tools to support their competitiveness. Major ICT players already offer one-does-all Product Lifecycle Management suites, however, these do show consistent shortcomings in terms of SME accessibility, degree of personalization and they often lack of an acceptable level of interoperability. These problems are being addressed by the development of a Virtual Factory Framework (VFF). The approach is based on four pillars: (1) Semantic Shared Data Model, (2) Virtual Factory Manager (VFM), (3) Decoupled Software Tools and (4) Integration of Knowledge. This paper will focus on the Virtual Factory Manager that acts as a server supporting the I/O communications within the framework and its stored knowledge for the Decoupled Software Tools needing to access its repository.
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Virtual Factory Manager for Semantic Data Handling
Giorgio Ghielminia, Paolo Pedrazzolia, Diego Roverea, Walter Terkajb, Claudio R. Boëra, Giovanni Dal Masoc,
Ferdinando Milellad, Marco Saccob
a ICIMSI-SUPSI, Galleria 2, 6928 Manno, Switzerland
b ITIA-CNR, Via Bassini 15, 20133 Milano, Italy
c Technology Transfer System S.r.l., Via Pacini 15, 20131 Milano, Italy
d SimX Ltd, Furness House, Salford Quays, Manchester M503XA, UK
ABSTRACT
The growing importance of manufacturing SMEs within the European economy, in terms of Gross
Domestic Product and number of jobs, emphasizes the need of proper ICT tools to support their
competitiveness. Major ICT players already offer one-does-all Product Lifecycle Management suites,
however, these do show consistent shortcomings in terms of SME accessibility, degree of personalization
and they often lack of an acceptable level of interoperability. These problems are being addressed by the
development of a Virtual Factory Framework (VFF). The approach is based on four pillars: 1) Semantic
Shared Data Model, 2) Virtual Factory Manager (VFM), 3) Decoupled Software Tools, 4) Integration of
Knowledge. This paper will focus on the Virtual Factory Manager that acts as a server supporting the I/O
communications within the framework and its stored knowledge for the decoupled software tools needing
to access its repository.
KEYWORDS
Virtual Factory, Enterprise Modelling, Reference Model, Interoperability, Semantic Data Model
1. INTRODUCTION
Market needs and expectations require a continuously rapidly evolving production framework: thus production
systems, from small to large scale and integrated factories, have to be conceived and set-up in shorter and shorter
times (Chryssolouris et al, 2008). Several critical aspects, related to this need of rapid prototyping of factories,
have to be addressed: it is critical to provide sufficient product variety to meet customer requirements, business
needs and technical advancements (Huang et al, 2005), while maintaining economies of scale and scope within
the manufacturing processes (Terkaj et al, 2009). Therefore, the current challenge in manufacturing engineering
consists in the innovative integration of the product, process and factory worlds and the related data, aiming at
synchronizing their lifecycles (Tolio et al, 2010).
The creation of a holistic, integrable, up-gradable, scalable Virtual representation of the Factory can empower
this synchronization, promoting high cost savings in the implementation of new manufacturing facilities or
reconfiguration of existing ones, thanks to the effective virtual representation of buildings, resources, process,
and products: this is shown both by industrial practice and academic scientific research. The entire factory is
simulated as a continuous and consistent digital model, which can be used, without interruption, all the way from
the product idea to the final dismantling of the production plants and buildings (Bracht and Masurat, 2005).
This challenge is being addressed by the development of a Virtual Factory Framework (VFF), within an EU
funded project (http://www.vff-project.eu/). The approach is based on four pillars: 1) Semantic Shared Virtual
Factory Data Model (VFDM), 2) Virtual Factory Manager (VFM), 3) Decoupled Software Tools, based on the
VFDM and that can interact through the VFM, and 4) Integration of Knowledge. VFF objective is to fosters an
integrated virtual environment that supports factory processes along all the phases of its lifecycle.
This paper will focus on the Virtual Factory Manager (VFM), proposing an evolution of the former VFF Pillar II
(Sacco et al, 2010). This evolution finds its justification in the identified weakness of the former second Pillar,
found both in the support to the data consistency check against modifications performed by different modules
and in the integration of the knowledge layer with the pure factory data layer.
Semantic shared
data-model
Integration of knowledge
1
2
3
4
Virtual factory
manager
Decoupled modules
FLP
GIOVE
….
Knowledge Manager
Figure 1 - The Semantic Virtual Factory Framework architecture
A viable solution has been identified in the adoption of ontology as means for data and relationships
representation, promoting knowledge integration in the data-model. This approach introduces a modification in
the overall VFF architecture, where pillar IV (knowledge integration) is no longer seen as foundation of Pillar I
(reference data model), as presented in (Sacco et al, 2010), but rather considered as an additional decoupled
module (Figure 1).
This paper presents the new VFF framework born from this evolution.
2. VIRTUAL FACTORY FRAMEWORK
As mentioned, an answer to the market requirements previously highlighted has been provided by the
development of a first version of the Virtual Factory Manager (Sacco et al, 2011). That solution proved the
validity of the concept of having an integrated virtual environment supporting the design and management of all
the factory entities, ranging from the single product to the network of companies, along all the stages of the
factory lifecycle. The centralized data management platform based on a common description of the digital
factory demonstrated the capability to improve the integration process between software design tools (existing
and new developed ones) and to provide a shared knowledge base to be used during the factory modelling
phases. Nevertheless, the former approach showed some weaknesses both in the support to the data consistency
check against modifications to parts of the factory instances performed by different modules and in the
integration of the knowledge layer with the pure factory data layer. The result, highlighted by advanced tests,
was a framework affected by some problems of usability.
The main cause of this situation has been identified in the impossibility of the previous implementation of the
VFDM, to represent not only valid data structures, but also their semantics. A viable solution has been identified
in the adoption of ontology as means for data and relationships representation in order to improve the integration
of knowledge among the VFF pillars. This approach introduces some modifications in the whole VFF picture,
affecting the way the components of the architecture interact. Therefore, the result is a tighter cooperation
between the Knowledge Manager and the VFDM pillars.
2.1. SEMANTIC VIRTUAL FACTORY FRAMEWORK ARCHITECTURE
Figure 1 shows the new architecture of the Semantic Virtual Factory Framework composed by the four pillars of
Semantic Shared Data Model (Pillar I), Semantic VF Manager (Pillar II), Decoupled VF Modules (Pillar III) and
Knowledge Manager (Pillar IV).
The Semantic VFDM establishes a coherent standard extensible set of ontologies for the common integrated
representation of the factory objects and of the factory knowledge domain, basing on the tools of the semantic
web (mainly the Web Ontology Language - OWL). Section 3 is dedicated to a thorough description of the new
Semantic VFDM approach and of the reasons that drove the change.
This common ontology set is governed by the Semantic VFM (Pillar II) that completes the functionalities of
access control, data versioning and selective data query, already implemented by the previous VFM, with a full
support to the semantic data validation. In this way, Decoupled Modules (Pillar III) modifying single parts of the
factory data immediately receive feedback on the consistency of their actions with the overall definition of the
factory instance. Section 4 and Section 6 are respectively dedicated to the analysis of the Semantic VFM and to
the description of the current prototype implementation.
In order to couple with the new features of the VFM and with the new data exchange formats, it has been
necessary to intervene on the internal architecture of the Decoupled Modules and, in particular, of their VF
Connector modules. Section 5 reports on the new structure of Pillar III, while an example of new module
interacting with the Semantic VFM prototype is provided in Section 7. Also the Knowledge Manager (Pillar IV),
that was the only component of the previous architecture already based on the usage of ontologies, has been
affected by the new approach. With the new structure, in fact, it can directly interface the Semantic VFM as a
decoupled module managing a dedicated part of the Semantic Data Model ontology. In this way it has been
removed another weak point of VFF that was represented by the need for adaptation of formats and protocols
between pillars.
3. SHARED SEMANTIC DATA MODEL
The Reference Model (Pillar I) establishes a coherent standard extensible Virtual Factory Data Model (VFDM)
for the common representation of factory objects related to production systems, resources, processes and
products. The common data model can be considered as the shared meta-language providing a common
definition of the data that will be governed by the VFM (Pillar II) and used and updated by the Decoupled
Functional Modules (Pillar III).
According to the original requirements, the VFDM has to be holistic, covering all the relevant fields related to
the Factory domain and exploit existing technical standards to represent the data. Moreover the VFDM has to be
extensible and guarantee the proper granularity, providing at the same time the enablers for data consistency,
data safety, and proprietary data management.
Sacco et al (2011) conceived the VFDM as a set of XSD files (W3C, 2004c) defining the structure of the XML
files that would be stored and managed by the VFM. This solution offers relevant advantages in terms of:
Syntactic validation of the XML files according to the defined XSD files.
Rich expressiveness since several default data types can be further extended and complex constraints
and properties can be modelled.
Possibility to integrate several XSD files within a single project.
However, the XSD technology alone is not suitable for knowledge representation and several flaws can be
highlighted:
No explicit characterization of data with their relations on a semantic level.
Intradocument references are supported but interdocument references (cross-references) are poorly
modelled, thus endangering referential consistency.
Distributed data can be hardly managed.
The integration of different knowledge domains can be cumbersome.
The presented considerations led to evaluate and finally adopt the Semantic Web technologies which offer key
advantages to the whole VFF because they enables to:
Represent a formal semantics.
Efficiently model and manage distributed data.
Ease the interoperability of different applications.
Process data outside the particular environment in which it was created
Exploit generic tools that can infer from and reason about an ontology, thus providing a generic support
that is not customized on the specific domain.
The new semantic VFDM has been designed as an ontology (W3C, 2004a) by adopting the OWL language
(W3C, 2004b). In particular, it defines all the classes, properties and restrictions that can be used to create the
individuals to be stored in the data repository (Pillar II). Given the wide range and heterogeneity of the
knowledge domains to be covered by the VFDM in the scope of VFF, it is necessary to integrate various
knowledge domains as already highlighted by Colledani et al (2008) and Valente et al (2010) in previous related
works. Therefore, the VFDM has been decomposed into macro areas (i.e. bricks), creating a hierarchical
structure of sub-ontologies that have been named Factory, Building, System, Resource, Process, Product,
Strategy, Performance and Management. This architecture allows decomposing the problem, downsizing its
complexity while keeping a holistic approach. These sub-ontologies have been developed by referring to the
state-of-the-art technical standards available in the different domains, and in particular the Industry Foundation
Classes (IFC2x3, 2006), STEP-NC (ISO 14649-10:2004), and ISA-95 (ISA-95).
4. VIRTUAL FACTORY MANAGER
This section presents the analysis of the requirements for the VFM (Sect. 4.1) and its proposed architecture
(Sect. 4.2).
4.1 VFM REQUIREMENTS
The main goal of the VFM design and implementation consists in obtaining an open integration platform
representing a common and shared communication layer between already existing and newly developed software
tools to support the factory design and management.
The preliminary architecture of VFM proposed by Sacco et al (2011) was related to a VF Data Model based on
the XSD/XML format. The adoption of an ontology-based representation of the VF Data Model in the VFF
project has led to a re-design of the VFM where Semantic Web technologies have been exploited. In the new
architecture previous basic requirements have been extended to include specific semantic functionalities:
Platform independent interfacing capabilities. The VF modules are software tools developed by
different vendors/organizations, with different programming languages, operating systems and HW
architectures. The VFM has to interface all of them by providing its service in an open and “proper”
way.
Management of concurrent access and data consistency. Several software tools can access and/or
modify partial areas of the factory data at different, and possibly overlapping, times. Therefore, the VFM
is required to ensure that concurrent accesses occur without endangering the data integrity and slowing
down the planning process to unacceptable levels.
Management of evolving Factory Data. The VFM has to provide functionalities for managing the
evolution and revision of the data related to complex entities like production systems, processes and
products. A typical VFDM object is made by several files, depending on the sub-ontologies it refers to,
as described in section 3. Hence, a coherent versioning mechanism must take into consideration the
inter-document references between sub-ontologies.
Data safety must be ensured in case of hardware failures or user errors.
Addition of customized functionalities. Third party developers need an appropriate mechanism to enrich
the set of functionalities provided by the VFM without impacting on its core.
Response time. The interaction between VFM and the VF modules requires the support of
communication mechanisms that are able to provide answers in an appropriate time frame.
A Semantic Web Endpoint which enables stakeholders to query virtual factory models with the required
level of granularity for a more efficient and selective data access.
Most of the above underlies the development of the previous version of VFM. For this reason the architecture of
the new semantic version shares similar features with its predecessor. However the ability to support validation
and queries of semantic data introduces novelty aspects in the overall design of VFM.
4.2 SEMANTIC VFM ARCHITECTURE
The architecture of the semantic VFM was designed to provide support to the required functionalities. Each
solution implemented by the VFM is based on stable and well established technologies in order to obtain an
overall system capable to respond to industrial needs of reliability. The resulting VFM architecture is shown in
Figure 2 as an UML component diagram.
The functionalities of the VFM are exposed as web services that have been identified as a suitable and widely
adopted solution to guarantee platform independent interfacing capabilities. The Application Server provides the
front end for the exposure of VFM functionalities and takes care for the information transport of the VFM.
The Information Exchanging Platform (IEP) is the main component of the VFM and provides VF modules and
plugins with a high level access to the two functional cores of VFM: the Versioning Layer and the Semantic
Layer. It represents the preferred way (even if not the only one) to connect to the VFM, since it provides a
complete set of methods for structured data retrieval and semantic validation, data locking mechanism and
factory version management.
The Versioning Layer contains the VF Data Repository where all the shared data are stored. The evolution of the
factory data is managed by the Versioning System that organizes and updates the set of virtual factory instances.
The Versioning System guarantees the data safety as well, since it allows restoring an older version at any time,
thus preventing data losses due to user errors. Moreover, rollback methods can be used in case of data
inconsistencies due to broken connections or other factors, always ensuring data safety. In particular, the locking
mechanism exposed through the IEP helps to manage the concurrent access of the VF modules.
Plugin Connector
Tomcat mod
Application server (Apache)
Web Service XYZ
Proprietary
Plugin XYZ
I/O
Server Application
Plugin
I/O
HTTP
realization
Web Service XYZ
Tomcat
Connector
IEP Plugin
HTTP
Data I/O
High Level Data I/O
realization
Versioning System
VF Data Repository
Jena (RDF-api, OWL- API, SPARQL query engine
Factory Model Pool
VF MANAGER
Existing/Commercial
Application
Adaptation Module Module A Module B
Client
Application
Module
High Level Data I/O
Import/Export
Adapter
Client
Application
Module
Semantic Layer
Versioning Layer
Storage (TDB or SDB)
Figure 2 - Semantic VFM Architecture
The Semantic Layer is implemented by embedding in VFM one of the most common and reliable Semantic Web
Frameworks: Jena (Jena, 2011). Through the IEP users can carry out semantic validations of VFF models using
Jena functionalities directly on the server. Thanks to Jena, the IEP can also provide a VFM SPARQL endpoint.
By starting a Query Session on data extracted from the VF Data Repository it is possible to perform SPARQL
queries (W3C, 2008a). Through queries each module (or plugin) can select and aggregate information and be fed
with exactly the data it needs for its business process. Model modifications can also be executed using the
SPARQL Update language (W3C, 2008a). Modified models can then be serialised in output files in the same
format used by the VF Data Model ontology (RDF/XML).
5. DECOUPLED VF MODULES
Currently many software applications, called VF Decoupled Modules, are under development and will interface
the VFM for accessing the information kept in the data model.
Since the VFM is the centre of the data exchange among modules, it has been conceived with openness in mind
to be able to deliver data to the large variety of tool involved in the factory planning process. The decoupled
modules range from completely new developments to integration of existing application, to off-the-shelf
commercial software, characterized by different operating systems and development languages, among them
Windows, Linux and Java, C++, Python.
5.1. REQUIREMENTS ORIGINATED BY THE VF MANAGER
Since the exposed functionality of the VFM is implemented as a web service (W3C, 2011), all the modules are
required to implement a web service client according to the WSDL file (Booth and Liu, 2007) describing the
published interface. Additionally, to address the issue that web services are intrinsically stateless, the VFM has
implemented a few specific functions to keep track of the state of its clients. Therefore the decoupled modules
need to actively support this mechanism. Finally, the data received from the VFM are in RDF/XML format
(Beckett, 2004) and the utilization of third party libraries for the handling of that format is essential.
5.2. ARCHITECTURE
The listed common requirements lead to a similar overall module architecture which foresees a few predefined
component.
The following diagram illustrates the generic architecture of a VF decoupled module with the mentioned
components and a section of the VFM in the bottom part of the picture.
Figure 3 - Decoupled VF Module Architecture
5.2.1. VF Connector
Since all the decoupled modules will face common tasks related to the VFM connection, in order to avoid
repeated development efforts among the VFF partners, a specific VF Connector for the most common
development languages (C++, Java and Python) has been implemented.
The VF Connectors take care of the web service client implementation and the connection state mechanism.
5.2.2. RDF/XML Library
Each decoupled module will manage different parts of the data model in different ways. Nevertheless most of the
results coming from the VFM are in form of RDF/XML streams so that the development effort will be reduced
using already existing third party libraries conceived for RDF/XML data manipulation. The following table lists
some of the most used open source libraries.
Library
Language
Link
Redland RDF Libraries
C with Python- Perl- PHP-
Ruby- Interfaces
http://librdf.org/
RDFLib
Python
http://www.rdflib.net/
Jena RDF API
Java
http://jena.sourceforge.net/
Protegé API
Java
http://protege.stanford.edu/
Sesame OpenRDF
Java
http://www.openrdf.org
Table 1 - RDF/XML Libraries
Semantic data handling obviously is more complex than the one required for XSD/XML-based models. Most of
the VF Decoupled Modules are not semantic applications (Motta and Sabou, 2006). As such they access the
VFDM semantic representation only to extract and modify “plain” data. Indeed this is one of the few
disadvantages of the proposed semantic approach that can be mitigated only by fully exploiting the related
technology to ensure the full integration of the four Pillars of VFF.
5.2.3. Business Logic
This part of the software is peculiar to each module and will be developed on top of the mentioned components.
Nevertheless it is possible to distinguish two substantially different functionalities; the ad hoc developed
modules will provide a specific logic and expose it through a graphical user interface while the adaptation
modules will provide the required interface for a seamless integration of existing commercial tools.
6. VF MANAGER PROTOTYPE
The Semantic VF Manager has been implemented on the basis of the previous prototype presented in Sacco et al
(2011). Even if this version is a complete rewrite of the software, the main inspiring guidelines that have driven
the first prototype release have not been changed. The choice of development based on an open source and cross
platform architecture is still valid. This allows the deployment of the tools in real industrial scenarios where the
VF Manager should be integrated into existing legacy intranet architectures. Having chosen to adopt
technologies with proven reliability, cross platform compatibility and well known by IT personnel grants a
smooth integration and successful operation inside most of the existing network configuration.
We hereby describe, for each of the main components of the architecture shown in Figure 2, the prototypal
choices of the applied software tools. The Application Server was implemented with Apache HTTP Server, one
of the most deployed and reliable HTTP servers (The Apache Software Foundation, 2011a). The Servlet
Container was developed with Apache Tomcat (The Apache Software Foundation, 2011b), used in numerous
large-scale, mission-critical web applications across a wide range of industries and organizations. Tomcat is
paired with “Tomcat mod” to support integration with Apache HTTP server: this connector redirects the
information received by the Apache Server to Tomcat, and therefore to the plug-ins. The Versioning Layer was
developed by adopting Subversion (Collins-Sussman et al, 2004) that is an open source version control system
widely used in the open source world. Access to the ontology model, i.e. creating, writing and reading models
from OWL, has been implemented on top of the Jena framework (Jena, 2011) which is a proven library that
implements Web Semantic in Java.
FRONT END
MANAGERS
UTILITIES
IEP
Web Service
Administration
Web Pages
Users
Web Pages
Jena Subversion Transaction Users
Projects Working Copies Ontology Models Logging
Figure 4 - Architecture of the VF Manager Prototype
The architecture of the VF Manager in Figure 4 highlights the internal division in tree main layers: front end,
managers and utilities.
The front end layer consists of three components that expose the functionalities:
IEP provides a SOAP Web Service to the VF modules.
Administration lets the administrative personnel manage the user and the opened sessions using a web-
based interface.
Users Pages are web pages that a user can access to see his open session and to chat with other active
users.
The managers layer groups most of the business logic of the VF Manager and is composed of the following
components:
Jena handles the ontology model using the Jena framework;
Subversion is responsible for data storage and versioning using the SVNKit library (SVNKit, 2011);
Transaction manages user sessions and commits, coordinating the Jena, Subversion and Users
components;
Users manages the user database, access control and sessions list.
The utilities layer consists of components providing a common infrastructure to handle:
Projects
Working copies
Ontology models
Logging
All this components have been developed in Java and JSP (Java Server Pages) and deployed as Tomcat web
application.
This prototype is an evolution of the software presented in Sacco et al (2011) and focuses on the implementation
of a wider set of features:
Data versioning
SPARQL Query
Locking
Granularity
Dependencies
Web access
The previous prototype focused only on versioning and locking. A key feature introduced in this version is
granularity, implemented with the concept of projects to represents the minimal independent unit (i.e. set of files)
that can be locked. A project can have one or more dependency on other projects, allowing reusing of shared
resources. A project can not only declare its dependencies allowing a module to manually retrieve them - but
can also automatically include them to build a complete ontology model. This model can be queried using
SPARQL language (W3C, 2008a). Finally in this prototype we have implemented the ability to access the VF
Manager using an Internet browser: administrators and registered user can access some functionalities of the VF
Manager without needing to use a module application.
Further development of the prototype is targeted at consolidating the robustness of the implemented features and
at improving the functionalities that can be accessed from the web interface. This last development will
eventually enable a user to access the data in the VF Manager without relying to any module, maybe allowing
limited editing capabilities. Another important feature that will be enabled by the web interface is the access
from mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets.
7. VF MANAGER VERSIONING SYSTEM
A VFDM ontology-based model (for brevity VF model) is defined by a number of files organised in folders.
Each folder contains the following files:
one (and only one) file with extension .owl containing a Factory Project or a Factory Library.
binary files (BLOBs) which are instrumental for the correct representation of the model (graphic files,
process data, etc.).
A Factory Library contains “reusable” individuals that can be imported by a Factory Project. For what stated
above Projects can depend on a number of Libraries and no Project depends on other Projects. However,
Libraries can depend on other Libraries. If we see this mutual dependency of individuals from both classes
organised into a hierarchical structure, a typical VF model could be represented as in Figure 5:
Project
Library A
Library C
Library E
Library F
Library B
Library D
Figure 5 Typical hierarchical structure of a VF model
The organisation of a Project and its Libraries into a hierarchical tree can be exploited to provide an efficient
versioning mechanism that promotes concurrent development of VF models. Indeed after the first release of a
Library, the development of a Project (or other Libraries depending on it) can be carried out separately and in
parallel with further developments of the base Library. For example, taking as a reference the structure of Figure
5, once the first version of Library F has been released, Library E can be developed meanwhile other individuals
are added to Library F. In this way the development of both Libraries could be carried out in parallel by different
users. Concurrent development is a crucial aspect of VFF, since a consistent number of stakeholders can
contribute to the development of complex factory models. On the other hand the safe concurrent access strategy
of VFM requires for the user to reserve the right of modifying model data through Transactions initiated on
Project and Library files. Transactions determine a Subversion lock on files preventing other users to perform
different, uncontrolled modifications at the same time. Transactions however can be applied by the user (further
than the Project) to specific Libraries only, leaving the possibility to other stakeholders to write-access the
unlocked ones.
7.1. HIERARCHICAL LOCK AND COMMIT
As a Project grows in complexity, the number of Libraries which it depends on could be quite significant and the
corresponding hierarchical structure quite complex. A user can start a Transaction directly on a Library that
he/she needs to modify for further developments of the depending Project. This happens, for example, when new
machines of a Resource Catalogue (the Library) are modelled side-by-side with a factory layout (the Project).
However, in doing so the user might not be aware that other Libraries depending on the one that he/she is going
to modify could also be affected. With reference to Figure 5, if the user needs to modify Library D for the
purpose of enhancing the Project model, Library A might also need to reflect changes in D. Therefore a
Transaction on Library A is also required. It is then crucial for the VFM to guarantee a harmonised versioning of
Project and Libraries related to each other according to their hierarchical tree. The versioning mechanism must
preserve the consistency of version dependencies within the same Project. The Semantic VFM implements this
mechanism through a hierarchical lock and commit procedure. This technique makes sure that any change in a
low-level library is accounted for in higher hierarchical depending sub-models (the Project and/or other
Libraries), so that any possible inconsistent association of Project and Libraries versions is prevented. The
hierarchical lock and commit is implemented in the Transaction Manager (Figure 4) and consists in executing
Subversion locks and commits recursively along hierarchical paths in the Project tree structure, in ascending and
descending order respectively. For example, in Figure 5 a Transaction on Library E would also trigger a
Transaction on Library B and the Project, but not on Library F. The lock path therefore goes from Library E to
Project. The hierarchical commit works in the opposite way. Closing the Transaction on the Project would end
the Transaction on Library B and E as well, since all modelling business is supposed to have come to an end.
However, the user can decide that he/she does not need to modify the Libraries any longer but still needs to work
on the Project. In this case by closing only the Transaction on Library B he/she closes the one on Library E as
well, leaving the Transaction on the Project open.
The hierarchical lock and commit process described here provides an efficient way for versioning groups of
interrelated data within a single IEP call. However it is still not enough to ensure a consistent cross-versioning of
VF models, since an unlocked Library can be modified outside a checked-out Project at the same time by a
different stakeholder.
7.2. CROSS-VERSIONING
Each version of a Project can in theory depend on all possible versions of Libraries which it depends on. To have
a more deterministic system and reduce the risk of model inconsistencies, a cross-versioning strategy has been
applied, which takes into account the practical aspects of the day-by-day design and modelling work of virtual
factories. VFM leaves stakeholders in power of deciding if and (above all) when they want to commit a Project
to newer versions of Libraries than those corresponding to the Head version of the Project itself. The procedure
can be performed through a dedicated GUI on a user VFM web page. The Version References page is accessible
from the home page of VFM through the link Project Management (Figure 6).
A Project designer can only update the dependencies to newer version of Libraries. The opposite (make a Head
version of a Project depending on older version of Libraries than the current ones) is considered inconsistent
with the evolution of a VF Model file system (Transactions can only be initiated on Head versions of projects),
therefore not allowed (lower version numbers are “greyed out” and not selectable). Stakeholders could still
“recombine” Project and Libraries with versions of their like by branching. However within the same branched
Project lifeline the principle of “same or greater Libraries versions” dependency still applies.
Figure 6 - Cross-version management on the VFM Web GUI
8. DECOUPLED VF MODULES
This section describes two decoupled modules that can interact with each other thanks to the VFM. The former is
named Factory Layout Planner (FLP) (Ceruti et al, 2010), whereas the latter GIOVE Virtual Factory (Viganò et
al, 2009).
8.1 FLP
8.1.1 Functionality
FLP is a client/server application that enables the collaborative development of a factory layout.
The main functionality of the FLP consists in:
3D visual editing of the layout
3D visual editing of the building
running Discrete Events Simulation (DES)
Figure 7 - FLP Main Window
The application is characterized by a two-level architecture with a fat client (Figure 7) dealing with complex 3D
models and real time requirements, and a server which acts as a synchronization manager and as VFM web
client.
8.1.2. Implementation
FLP is an application written in Java. For handling the data received from the VFM in RDF/XML format, the
third party library Jena (Jena, 2011) is used.
8.1.3. Accessed Data
FLP will interact with different areas of the VFDM to exploit its functionality:
the multisite information - the production plants of the enterprise [read-write]
the building data [read-write]
the resources templates - for every resource template (or type) a set of information (icon, VRLM
file(s) for 3D representation, properties and further data) [read-only]
the layout data (which contains for example the instantiated resources, their position and their property
values) [read-write]
the production plans and processes data to feed the DES engine [read-only]
the results of the DES simulation [read-write]
8.2 GIOVE VIRTUAL FACTORY
8.2.1 Functionality
GIOVE Virtual Factory (GIOVE-VF) is a virtual reality collaborative environment aimed at supporting the
factory layout design. In particular, GIOVE-VF offer the user the possibility to design factories by selecting
machines, operators and other resources from available catalogues and place them in the 3D scene of the virtual
factory (Figure 8). The virtual environment can schematically display performance measures that are provided
by simulators and/or monitoring tools. Thanks to its user-friendly interface, GIOVE-VF enables the
collaboration between managers, experts and also workers in an intuitive way.
Figure 8 - GIOVE-VF environment
8.2.2. Implementation
GIOVE-VF is a software tool developed onto the C++ library GIOVE (Graphics and Interaction for OpenGL-
based Virtual Environments), that is a set of libraries and tools designed for the creation of collaborative virtual
environments and the realization of real-time 3D interactive scenes including working digital representations
of objects, products, systems that are being designed and evaluated (Viganò et al, 2011). GIOVE-VF
communicates with the VFM thanks to a C++ VF Connector that has been developed by exploiting the Redland
RDF Libraries.
8.2.3. Accessed Data
GIOVE-VF can access data stored in the VF Data Repository that are related to the definition of:
representation contexts;
production site and buildings;
placement of objects inside a building;
production resources;
part types and process plans;
evaluated performance of production systems.
8.3. SAMPLE USE CASES
The prototype of the VFM hosts the VFDM and a test case that can be accessed by all VF modules to check the
correctness of input/output communications. This test case defines data related to the layout of a factory,
importing both resource types and instantiated resources.
The following subsections describe two use cases showing how FLP can manage the data defined in the test
case. These steps would be similar also for a different VF module (e.g. GIOVE-VF).
8.3.1. Caching resources types (read only)
The FLP composes a layout by creating and placing into the 3D window instances of resources from the
resources catalogue. The FLP itself does not modify the resource templates, which consists of resource type
description data and typically very large 3D model files (those data are not subject to frequent changes). Given
those assumptions, for performance purposes, the FLP maintains a local cache of the data by checking from time
to time if a synchronization of the local cache is required.
The steps to accomplish this task consist in
select the current revision of the sub-project Resource Library”
download the ontology file(s) containing the individuals
load the file(s) into a Jena ontology model in order to access the content
retrieve all the 3D files from the “resource catalogue” folder and store them locally
8.3.2. Layout planning (read-write)
The FLP user selects the current version of a layout with the purpose of modifying it. It must signal to the VFM
its intention, so that other users do not modify the same data and the Data Model remains consistent.
Precondition for this use case is that the local catalogue of resources has been successfully synchronized for the
selected project.
The additional steps (compared with use case 7.3.1.) required to accomplish this task consist in:
start a transaction on the selected project
display all the instances of resources defined in the project in a editable 3D view of the layout
apply the modifications to the Jena ontology model and modify the local project file(s)
send back the modified files to the VFM
make the changes permanent and available to all others VFF users by committing the open transaction
8.3.3. Discrete Event Simulation
The FLP provides a set of functionalities developed to perform a discrete-event simulation (DES) through which
the user can assess the productivity related to a designed layout and compare it against a target value. The FLP
models through a sequence of discrete events, the machines operations and combine them according to a pre-
defined production plan. An external PLM, acting as VF module, provides the production plan basing on the
designed factory layout and makes it available to the other VF modules via the VFM. The output of the
simulation enables both the FLP user and other interested VF modules, to analyse the calculated KPIs (i.e. the
production annual volume, the time delays, the machine utilization, etc.) and compare them with the target
values in order to assess if the customer requirements are fulfilled.
This use case want to remark the ability of VF system to guarantee the data interoperability among the involved
VF modules.
9. CONCLUSIONS
The new approach driven by the Semantic VFDM and enabled by the Semantic VFM represents a step forward
in the improvement of the Virtual Factory Framework and in particular towards the target of a fully integrated
architecture of all the Pillars. Data individuals and their Semantics come now from the same coherent source and
can be seen by different perspectives, according to the needs of the accessing clients (Knowledge Manager or
Decoupled Modules).
A first prototype of the Semantic VFM exploring the potentials and the issues related to this new approach has
been presented. In particular, the applied Semantic Web technologies represent the cornerstone to obtain a
framework where the different stakeholders can effectively contribute in a harmonized way to the definition of
the virtual factory along all the phases of its lifecycle.
In the coming months improved versions of the VFM will implement the defined architecture and fulfil the
expected functionality. An increasing number of Decoupled Modules will interface the VFM and fill in the VF
Data Repository with individuals according to the developed Virtual Factory Data Model, thus validating the
new approach.
10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The research reported in this paper has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework
Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement No: NMP2 2010-228595, Virtual Factory Framework
(VFF).
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