THE SEL BACKGROUND
This document fixes the basis of our vision, towards the understanding of the thinking and will of the SEL, it explains items that might otherwise be obscure, and provides background on the group's rationale. The first revision was written in 1999 to guide the SEL through the third millennium, it was written in italian language. The second revision was merely a translation to english language. This third revision introduces major changes. In effect, after seven years, we are doing a second sweep on our background skills in order to refine our objectives. If this goes so far to develop further some of our projects, it is satisfactory.
I have been asked many times why I have created the SEL and what is the aim of this effort. So, one of the obscure things that must be clarified, is that the SEL is not born to make profit, it has been created solely to pursue pure research objectives, and it is built as a non-profit innovation network. The SEL is not born to compete, but rather to collaborate. The research mission of the SEL is oriented to the fields of computer science, automation, mechanics and electrodynamics. Interfacing and integration of various types of systems is another line of research pursued at the SEL.
FOUNDATIONS OF THE VISION
On Computer Science
The interests of the SEL in the field of computer science are multiple, a list of all the topics of interest is outside the scope of this paper. However, topics of special interest for the SEL include capabilities, real-time, clusters, open-source, and human-computer interaction. Currently, the SEL is undergoing extensive studies on capabilities and clusters. We are doing research on cluster architectures, and we are deeply involved in discussions about the capability security model, in particular about the object-capabilities paradigm.
At the SEL, automation is not seen as a tool that replace the human, it is seen as a tool that helps the human in his daily work. Automation provides continuous operativity on time-consuming, repetitive and recurring tasks with low professional content, thus allowing concentration on new creative activities. It is necessary to research on the automation of EDP centers, not for reduction of the personnel, but for maintenance and qualification of the current personnel, placing it in condition to provide the service quality requested by users.
System operators are required to use and understand new technologies and tools to maintain the informative system, by working in synergy. The workload placed on so-called "operations and maintenance groups" is increasing in quantity and quality requirements. It is matter of maintaining central systems (mainframes and clusters) and peripheric systems (small servers and workstations) with all the software (operating systems, development environments, DBMS, TP monitors, etc.) and the hardware that they use, of controlling the good operation of communication systems, of performing the daily, weekly and monthly batch, of performing system recovery operations, of managing the output of printers, of performing system tuning, and often also of providing helpdesk support to customers. Seen a so complex and various workload, the interest for automation tools is clear, at the same time it is clear that automating system tuning is not as simple as automating the batch work. The typical logic approach is to automate at first the mechanical and recurring operations, and later to extend the automatisms to more "intelligent" operations.
On Mechanics and Electrodynamics
The SEL is engaged in the construction of small mechanical units that we use for research purposes, and does experiments of electrodynamics.
Aspects of automation under research at the SEL
Computerized Maintenance, Terotechnology and Total Asset Management
Computerized Maintenance Management Systems are used to rationalize the preventive maintenance of plants, machinery and devices, coordinating maintenance downtime with production plans. Analysis of statistical data allows the identification of machinery with particular problems and act a priori, before the necessity becomes compelling. These methods allow to act quickly, and with knowledge, on the root causes of faults, such that plants and machinery are maintained always in efficiency, reducing the number of halts due to condition faults (unscheduled downtime) and regime failures (unplanned outages).
Terotechnology is the application of managerial, financial, engineering, and other skills to extend the operational life of, and increase the efficiency of, equipment and machinery.
Total Asset Management is an integrated approach (yet to be developed!) to Asset Management which incorporates elements such as design for maintainability, design for reliability, life cycle management and others, to arrive at the optimum asset management solution to meet any given production requirements.
We are aware that there are hundreds of commercial packages with very refined features. However, in general, custom maintenance systems for specific laboratory environments and industrial applications, are ad-hoc systems developed in-house. We are also aware that there are a few freeware maintenance systems, but as far as we know they are all web-based, which does not accomodate our needs. In order to close the circle, we need to architect a real-time decisional process, based on all the informations coming from the field.
Our objective is to develop a comprehensive open-source system that provide a large amount of maintenance functions. Since this is a great design challenge, we anticipate that we will not have a viable design before at least three years.
Many operative compartments of the CIM sector are interested in automation. In the CIM sector, real-time operating systems are required for process control, CM systems are required for automated management of assembly plants, OO-DBMSs are required to manage complex data, and EDI order processing systems are required for Just-in-time supplying. MRP and production control compartments are interested in substituting master production planning with simpler, flexible project management systems, capable of doing simulation, that are used for capacity planning, while quality process and facilities planning compartments need learning algorithms for quality assurance in monitoring, diagnostics, inspection and testing.
In the CIM sector, design and production represent two macro-islands of automation that are historically difficult to integrate. Effective sharing of project management data and process informations between the two worlds are the first steps for development of a concurrent engineering process. The product modification cycle can be largely reduced by allowing production departments to access accurate informations with the adoption of automatic tools for audit and control of modifications. At the operations level, greater synergy between design and production activities would be obtained by introducing computer aided process planning systems (CAPP).
A CAPP system is a software that creates a process plan on the basis of user-provided constraints. A process plan is formed by the set of work instructions, component lists, machinery setup, job processing constraints, and scheduling times, that must be provided in the factory in order to program machinery for processing of some plan, or assembly of various components. The adoption of CAPP systems allows, in the short term, the production of longer batch jobs, and a substantial reduction of production costs. In successive phases, CAPP systems can be used to create automatically the process plan on the basis of reference constraints.
Most CAPP software is already available commercially and in the open source area.