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FactoryBricks: a New Learning Platform for Smart Manufacturing Systems

The current production landscape is undergoing a change from monolithic structures to modular and service-oriented value creation networks. Indeed, Industry 4.0 brought a set of technologies to be exploited in the industrial context. Smart devices such as sensors and connected products make it possible to design digital counterparts of production systems and use them to take smarter decisions in industrial processes. However, such changes also introduced a higher complexity in production systems. The users of new technologies need to obtain the right skill set to rapidly integrate within a smart manufacturing environment. Hence, proper training of the workforce becomes essential for European manufacturing firms to maintain their leadership.

FactoryBricks is a 2021 project funded by EIT Manufacturing. The project consortium is composed by Politecnico di Milano, Grenoble INP (France), and Technische Universität Braunschweig (Germany). The project takes advantage of the innovative idea conceptualized by Dr. Giovanni Lugaresi, PhD candidate Alberto Loffredo and Prof. Andrea Matta by making use of affordable and reconfigurable elements for producing physical simulators of production systems. FactoryBricks delivers effective training courses enabling the uptake of industrial Internet-of-Things (IoT) technologies and smart manufacturing. An active learning environment is offered to professionals who need training on the digitization of manufacturing equipment. Modular learning contents are designed to teach waste-free manufacturing concepts by creation, interconnection, digitization, and operation of miniaturized manufacturing systems and the related IoT technologies. The courses are released on the EU-funded platform Skills.Move. In addition, the trainees can build their own lab-scale manufacturing system with modular components (e.g., LEGO Mindstorms®, Fischertechnik®) and additional industrial IoT-compatible devices (e.g., Arduino Nano and RaspberryPi). Trainees can upskill their knowledge by actively building and experimenting with the lab-scale system guided by the learning contents offered through Skills.Move.

The preliminary roll-out phase in 2021 highlighted how the problem-solving approach enables trainees to go beyond the basic process of “learn and apply”. The scenarios collectively imagined for FactoryBricks support the learner in the exploration, assembly, and set-up of the production system, as well as reflection and critical thinking. With the results obtained in this project, Politecnico di Milano contributes to innovative teaching methodologies, which will shape the way life-long learning will be done in the future, and delivered not only to students, but also toward professional trainees and the general public.