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Research Areas Not Specific To Manufacturing

A number of research problems in areas not specific to manufacturing will also need to be addressed if the virtual factory is to be realized. For example:

Models that must be concurrently activated and used may have to be built by geographically dispersed teams. Methods to provide for concurrent engineering and for keeping models or pieces of models synchronized will have to be developed.

Models must run at real-time speeds if they are to be used in conjunction with real-time factory operations; they must run 1,000 or 10,000 times faster than real time if they are to be used to experiment with different factory configurations.

Testing and validation of models will be difficult, since there are so many variables and combinations of objects involved. ''Provably correct" modules will have to be developed, so that large models can be constructed that are free from error. Tools to help build models will be required.

Model security, to protect a model from unwanted tampering or accidental incidents, to make the model accessible to users but protected from unwanted actions, is another area of concern.

The computational requirements for such simulations will be very high, perhaps requiring the use of supercomputers. However, traditional supercomputers have been configured for homogeneously parallel problems. The virtual factory simulation will require extensive parallel computation, but it will not be homogeneous. Therefore research is needed on new techniques to apply massive parallel processors to the simulation question.

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