10 key characteristics of the Festo Cyber Physical Laboratory

By Simon Thomas and Ryan Cording, Research Associates on the SMART Digital Accelerator project
Thursday, March 3, 2022

Technology can transform manufacturing in business. It allows us to introduce new products and processes without disrupting current production lines. And it helps us to reduce waste and increase productivity — giving an organisation the competitive edge (and saving them money). The new Festo Cyber Physical Laboratory at University of Wales Trinity Saint David does just that. Two of our Research Associates, Simon Thomas and Ryan Cording, who work on the SMART Digital Accelerator project outline ten key characteristics of the new technology and how it can benefit manufacturers in Wales.

Festo Cyber Physical Laboratory at UWTSD

1. Modular design

The Festo Cyber Physical Lab is the culmination of multiple “stations” each with a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), Human-Machine Interface (HMI), a network switch and an application module. There are several modules available, each performing a different task including manufacturing processes, robotic assembly, and quality checking. As each station is equipped with a network switch, any number of stations can be connected to create an assembly line working through any given work plan to complete a process. Having their own PLC and interface provides flexibility, meaning that stations can easily be replaced or even removed to function independently. This works out perfectly for scalability, allowing them to fit in compacted or large environments to meet the requirements for use.

2. Accessible

Each station operates on a discrete Programmable Logic Controller (PLC); depending on the application module attached, it could be utilising more than one. Mainly used in industrial computers due to high reliability and process fault diagnostics, a PLC allows for open independent programming. The Festo system can be combined to operate additional applications as well as third-party machinery. For example, when companies employ use collaborative robots in their manufacturing process, they are able to adopt the robot directly into the station making use of actuators and sensors already known by the PLC. 

3. Digitalisation

Being a cyber physical system, it comes available with software applications that provide computerised control of manufacturing processes. The essential application is called Manufacturing Execution System (MES). This provides communication between each station to a centralised platform as opposed to individual control via an onboard controller allowing convergence across management, production planning and logistics.

4. Approachable

With its numerous application modules and machinery, the idea of a cyber physical system can appear overwhelming. But through a didactic method using a plug-and-learn system design, the laboratory is quite open, covering a wide range of professions including manufacturing, development security operations, and business.

A factor of the system’s ease of use comes from Ciros Studio, an interactive digital model of the physical stations and modules. This platform opens the system to anyone, not only as an alternative to the physical system, but also for training being able to reach greater numbers and overcome limitations.

5. Cloud Computing

Empowering the manufacturing process with automation and information, each of the Festo stations is a point of data collection and exchange. The more the system is used the greater variety and volume of data sets is contained. Being able to process and analyse these data sets from a customer placing an order, to manufacturing and output of a product is what enables businesses to continuously improve best practices that benefit the industry.

6. Cyber Security

With more companies embracing digital transformation, the risk to businesses is always increasing through the constant threat of vulnerabilities and those that exploit them. With that in mind, the cyber physical lab comes with the hardware and tools that allow for the research and study of cyber-attacks and preventative methods, providing a platform that can be used to demonstrate, learn, and instruct in this age of digital transformation.

7. Energy Monitoring

With the current condition of our planet being constantly questioned, many industries are looking at becoming effectively sustainable and working towards a carbon neutral world. For this reason, the system is equipped with energy monitoring allowing for the system to be continually adjusted to ensure levels of production while improving the conditions of our environment.

8. Automation

The Festo laboratory uses both industrial and cartesian robots as well as automated guided vehicles (AGV) to perform otherwise manual processes, the expectation of automation is to utilise robotic techniques and processes to improve the productivity, reliability, and speed of executing tasks. These automatic solutions contribute to reducing production costs and increasing delivery of services with minimum human intervention.

9. Industrial Internet of Things

The Festo Laboratory is defined as Industry 4.0, one of the areas that empower this term is a machine’s capability to collect data and communicate over the internet or network. An array of interconnecting sensors, instruments and devices can be utilised for facility improvements in production and efficiency. This, working together with Cloud Computing and Automation, establishes the convergence that drives the concept of a Smart factory.

10. Extended Reality

The use of augmented and virtual reality is one noticed by many as a future approach to the accessibility of information and training. This feature is important to the global industry and being part of the Festo cyber physical laboratory provides a resource to digital transformation. Increase the detail and available data to the workforce as well as delivering a captivating educational platform though artificial environments, outreaching the skills and knowledge to areas and people that would otherwise miss out on impactful opportunities. 

SMART Digital Accelerator is a team of industry expert advisers who work with manufacturers in Wales to help them identify the right technology to boost their bottom line.

The project is funded by Welsh Government, delivered by University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD), and supported by the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru (AMRC Cymru). There is no financial cost to the participating business.

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