Requirements for the Federated Digital Manufacturing Ecosystem and its Evolution
eFactory develops a digital manufacturing ecosystem that demonstrates a federated approach to functionality, processes, and users in a bid to ensure the initiative is sustainable. This is motivated by the shift in architecture design in recent times in favour of microservices enabling enhanced flexibility, rather than the proprietary digital platform approach that has been attributed with vendor lock in, proprietary standards, inhibiting evolution.
A federated approach needs to bring together different stakeholders into a level playing field where they can perform collaborative activities and develop relationships such as those between providers and suppliers of products and services. The federation model also supports the creation of competitiveness networks, which can be composed of multi-industry partners; and facilitate knowledge exchange between different stakeholders through collaborative processes.
Some of the guiding requirements for a federated ecosystem to be established through the eFactory project are described below:
- A federated ecosystem should have multiple systems and platform virtually connected through software interfaces for seamless authorised access
- The federation should provide necessary trust, security, and privacy mechanisms to ensure that the partners and their interactions in the ecosystem are safe from potential threats
- The federation should support the heterogeneity of the ecosystem and provide necessary governance mechanisms that allow the relevant control (data, access, business models etc) to remain within the partners
- The federation should implement governance procedures and technology mechanism that act as a deterrent for any potential monopoly
- The entities in the federation should be conducive to integration and interoperability. This would further eliminate the possibilities of monopoly and vendor lock-in
- The federated ecosystem should provide an easy to use service integration and interoperability platform/mechanism to make the provision and consumption of services as easy as possible
- The federation should promote the use of standards and its design should be flexible enough to have the choice of multiple open source technologies to realise its conceptual components
- The service integration and interoperability platform/mechanism offered by the federated ecosystem should have inbuilt support for standard communication protocols and for data transformation tools/languages, such as XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations), that are widely used in the industry.
- The service integration and interoperability platform/mechanism offered by the federated ecosystem should be scalable and should support high availability and high throughput.
- The federation should promote the use of standards for the design and implementation of components of the federated ecosystem to make the integration of new services, tools, and platforms effortless.
- The federation should provide adequate documentation in the form of HowTos, Tutorials and API documentation of provided services in order to ease the development of applications using distributed services from the various platforms and service providers within the eFactory ecosystem. The federation should promote the use of standard deployment practices such as containerization to make the deployments of components of the federated ecosystem easy to manage and maintain.
- The federated ecosystem should inherently provide services, tools, utilities that are widely used to realise the common use cases in the domain.
- The legislative regulation across different regions may be different so it is important to have a fair geographical distribution of vendors or datacentres to sustain the federated ecosystem
The process of evolution of a federated ecosystem should be self-governing in nature and encompass change across all aspects of the characteristics that make up a federated system. Naturally, evolution happens over time based on many different factors that are often not controllable or even predictable (such as behaviours of different actors, environmental changes, interactions between different entities etc). As an ecosystem grows (e.g. with the number of actors, the interactions, different types of activities etc) the need for supporting new actors, new roles, new interactions as well as adaptation of existing systems and processes also grows. Therefore, the requirements for the evolution of a federated ecosystem need to highlight the need for certain level of flexibility, openness, and adaptability in the underlying federation (mechanisms) to ensure its evolution overtime. The following requirements for the evolution of federated ecosystem are worth considering:
- A federated ecosystem in essence should constantly evolve to include new partners, tools and services; in order cater to the users need in present and in the future
- There should be feedback loop to capture user experiences and proper user interfaces should be defined to allow the multi-part interactions to take place and keep the ecosystem moving
- The interoperability feature of the platform should attract new software integration to develop opportunities for different types of interactions and business
- Overtime the ecosystem should adapt and accommodate new stakeholders and usage scenarios
- In a federated ecosystem, the involved parties rely on the agreed API Contracts or Interface Contracts for communicating with each other. However, as the participant services evolve, the upgradation of APIs becomes necessary and inevitable. Therefore, the federated ecosystem should define Interface Contract policies that allow the Service Providers to convey plans to deprecate/upgrade their APIs to the Service Consumers in advance allowing a smoother transition/collaboration.