Introduction

Manufacturing increasingly addresses individual production processes in B2B, e.g. project-based production, as well as B2E, e.g. mass customization. Ever more specific and complex requirements ask for new concepts such as Open Innovation or Crowd Sourcing. Competitive manufacturing must not adhere to plant-centric processes but needs to open up to a Virtual Factory for cross-organizational collaboration supporting lean communication, agile and high efficient production chains.

The proposed idea of ComVantage aims at providing a product centric information space for cross-organizational information that is shared during production time and beyond. This Virtual Factory allows suppliers, transport services, maintenance services and customers to subscribe and share information according to the specific user roles summing up in numerous collaborative spaces and sub-spaces that are restricted to specific users and time based constraints.
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Information is provided and maintained via Linked Data1 comprising best practises on Web 2.0 technologies. Status updates are available via lightweight, robust and highly scalable Micro-blogging where not only persons but also products are active members. During the manufacturing process delays and modifications can be communicated fast via the Virtual Factory.

During maintenance the Virtual Factory offers a collaborative information space for sharing relevant documentation, e.g. between a service technician and the constructing engineer of the relevant component. Since mobility and flexibility are continuously gaining weight, the Virtual Factory has specific focus on collaboration via mobile devices. Relevant information and status updates are available anytime and anywhere which prevents unnecessary delays but provides room for solid decisions.

Considering information management ComVantage will identify what bits of information are relevant for sharing collaboratively and between which parties as well as reducing the extracts to amounts that are not valuable for misuse. This presupposes an adequate access control model based on business process models combined with user role models and information models.

Categorization of information and association with user access shall result in simple management of access rights. Additionally, the model shall enable decentralized access management for temporary collaboration.

Data interfaces address business software as well as machine data. The Virtual factory will provide standardized interfaces that serve as adapters to business software such as ERP or lightweight software. Moreover, interfaces shall integrate machine data which requires machine data harmonization in translating various proprietary protocols via a specific middleware in a web accessible protocol.

User interfaces need to address novel flexible forms of presentation since neither format, nor amount, nor availability of information is known at design time. UI patterns and guidelines shall be designed for optimal user support based on different user roles. Furthermore, collaboration on mobile devices faces the challenge of multitasking activities, e.g. video conferencing and supply of documentation, in a supportive, robust and user friendly way. A general question is how to provide collaboration trust which supports confidentiality via a trustful environment.

In addition to technological security, palpable mechanisms need to be introduced. For instance, collaboration on sensitive data requires additional identification via phone, or a collaboration space is terminated unless every 5 minutes the collaboration is actively confirmed.

Last not least evaluation metrics will be defined to validate the collaborative information space and scrutinize the efficiency of the Virtual Factory with respect to economic and strategic aspects. Basis for the evaluation will be