iFAB Mfg Tools Overview

Manufacturability Feedback and Manufacturing Configuration Technologies

The manufacture of complex cyber-physical systems is generally limited to two options: large scale manufacturing that is efficient at producing one known product quickly with repeatability, or prototype assembly of a single (or few) test article(s). Factories that do one generally cannot efficiently do the other - it is currently not possible to achieve efficient large-scale manufacturing that is also flexible. The iFAB (instant Foundry, Adaptive through Bits) program attempted to accomplish both, in one manufacturing entity. The manufacturing tools developed under AVM evaluate a system design representation and automatically configure a digitally programmable manufacturing facility tailored to fabricate it. The IT infrastructure required to accomplish this is also able to provide detailed manufacturability information in the form of cost, schedule and identification of component cost drivers to the designer throughout the design process. Thus, the final verified design sent for manufacturing already has manufacturing considerations factored in. The physical instantiation of the manufacturing capability, called a foundry, includes a network of participating manufacturing facilities and equipment, the sequencing of the product flow and production steps, as well as work instructions. In essence, the manufacturing tool chain seeks to eliminate the learning curve inherent in large-scale manufacturing even for limited build numbers and thus reduce costly design changes late in the development phase.

The manufacturing tool suites center around two functions:

  1. Providing manufacturability feedback to the designer at a level of detail commensurate to the design.
  2. Configuring a foundry of networked manufacturing capabilities tailored to the final verified design, including supply chain optimization considerations, assembly planning, and automatically generated computer-numerically-controlled (CNC) and human work instructions. The automatic generation of work instructions from designer-supplied, detailed information represents a dramatic time savings in the development of a system. In addition, the digital record of human and machine instructions brings production level documentation to prototype quantity builds.

Much like the design tools, the manufacturing tool suites require detailed formal models representing the capabilities of various manufacturing machines and processes. By mapping these models into the same semantic domain as the vehicle design, the tools can automatically constrain the design trade space such that designs that are not manufacturable in a given network of manufacturing capabilities are automatically culled from the design solution space.

Though we term the network a "foundry" - principally to differentiate it from a conventional factory that, at least in the defense world, tends to be a custom facility tailored to a specific product or small set of product variants - in actuality, it is primarily an information architecture. Only the final assembly capability needs to be co-located under a single roof in anything resembling a conventional fabrication facility; the rest of the manufacturing network can be geographically distributed and extend across corporate and industrial boundaries, united only by a common model architecture and certain rules of behavior and business practices.

The capabilities and cost structure of each foundry partner organization are represented by a Virtual Production Environment (VPE) which consists of a series of algorithms specific to that organization. These VPEs represent a contractual agreement between the foundry partners for cost and schedule availability, vastly reducing the quoting time on individual components. To further validate the tools developed under AVM and identify gaps for development, DARPA has built an ATR, designed with the tools and exploiting the capabilities of the iFAB Foundry.

You can read more about each of the AVM Program Elements by following the corresponding links to the left.

The source code for the tool suite is also available under the 'FILES' tab on the left. There are several versions of the tools available for download and use.

For more information on these programs, please visit the DARPA website.

Note: The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.