The use of digital technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), can enable the transition to circular systems by, for example, extending product lifespan with monitoring and tracking tools and enhancing the provision of technical support, enabling sharing models to maximize utilization as well as enable consumption-based models. Manufacturing companies are increasing their use of digital technologies in the development of their service offerings, but manufacturing companies are still in the early stage of this transition. This forms the background to this research project consisting of university, industrial partners and a research institute.
The project consortium consists of Chalmers University of Technology (Supply and Operations Management) as the academic partner. The industrial partners are Husqvarna Group, ESAB and Meridion. The manufacturers of the industrial partners are major manufacturing companies in their respective industry with ongoing digitalization journeys. Husqvarna is producing and selling construction equipment and ESAB welding consumables and machines. The third industrial partner, Meridion, is an expert. Meridion is a software supplier to manufacturing industry in relation to data analysis. RISE is the institute partner.
All partners of the project will start up the project with a joint introductory WP (WP1) on understanding the value expectations from IoT in manufacturing industry. The heart of the project is three work packages (WPs) corresponding to different phases in development. The WPs are focusing on: WP2 ‘IoT as an enabler’ to understand the preparation phase, the type of data, quality of data that can be captured from the products in the own processes and customer processes. Next work package (WP3) is focusing on how the data is used to build up new types of Product-Service-Systems. This is the current practice for both industrial partners, developing and selling services of advanced nature based on the existing fleet of products. The two industrial partners are currently implementing new services in a IoT platform to increase value to their customers, and looking towards the implementation of a circular system. Husqvarna has already implemented a pilot project to test this with the “Battery Box” and “Robot-as-a-Service”. The fourth WP (WP4) regards the circularity of manufacturing companies, referring to how products may be re-manufactured, reused, re-furbished. This work is towards a closed-loop model of resources. This is planned activities at the industrial partners and pilots will be part of the project scope in this WP.
All the three focal WPs will be analysed in terms of two theoretical perspectives. Hence, this project will focus on IoT as an enabler for transition to circular systems by taking theoretical perspectives; 1) Operations planning and control – to manage the high degree of complexity in the planning and control of remanufacturing operations due to variability in quality, quantity and timing of the stochastic product returns which are the raw material of the remanufacturing production process. 2) Business relationships and networks – the role of partnerships and how relationships facilitate/hinder the transition between the phases.
The methods used in the project are based on university-industry collaboration and the companies are right now experiencing this journey. The academic partner involves a variety of researchers, PhD students, Assistant professor and professors, in this project in order to study and find the specific problems and turning them into generalized findings of interest outside the project. This research is totally dependent on the collaboration of the industrial partners. Related, we foresee results including co-published articles in ranked journals. The potential for good and interesting results is high.
The two final WPs regard synthesizing the results from the three focal WPs being analyzed with help of the theoretical perspectives. The transition to higher IoT enabled circular systems and maturity levels of circular production systems will be the focus here. The transitions are occurring also within the phases and in instances of moving to the next level. We plan for developing a maturity model that can be used in industry in order to analyse the preconditions, resources and capabilities needed in order to take on the transition towards circular systems. The final WP will focus on sharing our results beyond our project group.