Manufacturing System and Quality

Process innovation is not always sufficient to improve the competitiveness of a manufacturing company. In some ways the process is just one of the three elements that solve manufacturing problems. The other two are the product and the production systems: the former imposes its design specifications and the need to verify them at every stage of the process chain; the latter brings about many different constraints related to the availability of equipment, tooling and other types of resources. If all these issues are not carefully evaluated, it is highly unlikely that a technological solution can meet the demanding requirements of quality, cost, productivity and responsiveness.

This research group studies the dynamic relationships between product, process and production systems in order to translate them into innovative design, management and control methodologies for manufacturing companies. However, this is not to say that manufacturing technologies are treated as pure abstraction! The development of a methodology starts from an analysis of the real needs of a company or an industrial sector. Relevant knowledge is acquired through experimental plans or extensive data collection on the shop floor. The procedures implemented are based on technical standards and worldwide best practices. Results are tested at manufacturing facilities and deployed by means of software tools. Finally, the overall problem to be solved is anything but abstract: what are the causes of uncertainty of a process and how can they be controlled and (if possible) avoided?

On the product side, the main research focus is on how the results of manufacturing processes can be controlled to guarantee product quality. Modern dimensional control techniques are experimented in the Geometrical Metrology lab, where several types of high precision geometrical measurements, ranging from large to micro scale, are taken. This allows for an evaluation of all the ways in which the geometry of a workpiece can actually deviate from design specifications. This knowledge is not only helpful in terms of having a better understanding of processes, but also serves as the basis for the development of custom procedures of monitoring and statistical process control. These help decide what, how and when to control a production line or a supply chain and, ultimately, allow for the reduction of manufacturing defects and costs. As a feedback for engineers, information about geometric product variability is incorporated into innovative methods of tolerancing and process planning.

Research on production systems focuses on the development of performance evaluation tools. These are based on a detailed modeling of all system resources including machines (with related tools and fixtures), inspection stations and material handling devices. The dream of each production manager is that all these items are organized to work in tandem to maximize productivity, avoid bottlenecks and recoup all possible failures with minimum impact on system performance. Therefore, these tools are the basis for a rational approach to decisions, such as system configuration and balancing, as well as to operational planning tasks (routing, scheduling, etc.) which ensure an optimal usage of resources. The type of tool depends on the level at which management needs to be supported: virtual/digital manufacturing and inspection software is usually provided at a workstation level, while analytical methods and discrete event simulation help to optimize different types of performance indicators at a system level.In this area, a novel researchactivities is related tothe enabling technologies and systems for mechanical de-manufacturing of parts, including re-manufacturing and recycling.