Visualization Functionality of Virtual Factories
An Enhancement to Collaborative Business Process Management
Ahm Shamsuzzoha
, Filipe Ferreira
, Sven Abels
, Americo Azevedo
and Petri Helo
Department of Production, University of Vaasa, PO Box 700, Vaasa, Finland
Manufacturing Systems Engineering Unit, INESC TEC (formerly INESC Porto), Porto, Portugal
Ascora GmbH, Innovation & Product Development, Birkenallee 43, 27777 Ganderkesee, Germany
Keywords: Business Collaboration, Virtual Factory, Business Process Monitoring, Process Visualization, Small and
Medium Enterprise (SME).
Abstract: This paper focuses on process visualization that is applicable to managing a Virtual Factory (VF) business
environment. It briefly provides all aspects of implementing the dashboard user interface that is to be used
by the VF partners. The dashboard features state-of-the art business intelligence and provides data
visualization, user interfaces and menus to support VF partners to execute collaborative processes. With
advanced visualizations that produce quality graphics it offers a variety of information visualizations that
brings the process data to life with clarity. This data visualization provides critical operational matrices (e.g.
KPIs) required to manage virtual factories. Various technical aspects of this dashboard user interface portal
are elaborated within the scope of this research such as installation instructions, technical requirements for
the users and developers, execution and usage aspects, limitations and future works. The dashboard user
interface portal presents different widgets according to the VF requirements that are to be needed to support
the visualization and monitoring of various business processes within a VF. The research work highlighted
in this paper is conceptualized, developed and validated within the scope of the European Commission
NMP priority of the Seventh RTD Framework Programme for the ADVENTURE (ADaptive Virtual
ENterprise ManufacTURing Environment) project.
The concept of business collaboration is not new but
it attracts growing interest to the business
communities due to its associated benefits and the
on-going globalization within the manufacturing
domain. This collaboration usually begins after
identifying a possible business opportunity. This
business opportunity is elaborated within the
possible partners, whose are selected based on
specific criteria such as their capacity, skills, costs or
locations. Often there exists a pool of companies
with similar expertizes and products known as
business community (Carneiro at al., 2010), virtual
organization breeding environment (Afsarmanesh
and Camarinha-Matos, 2005), industrial cluster
(Flores and Molina, 2000), etc., from which
potential partners are selected to form such business
network, known as virtual organization, virtual
enterprise, virtual factory (Jain et al., 2001), etc.
The concept of virtual factory (VF) as presented
in this research provides mechanisms and tools that
facilitate the creation and operation of collaborative
processes in a business environment. This
environment combines the power of individual
factories into a single virtual factory to achieve
complex manufacturing processes. It offers dynamic
business portfolio like partner finding, process
creation, process forecasting and optimization,
information exchange as well as real-time
monitoring. Along with such offers, virtual factory
needs to offer proven tools or technologies that
provide end-to-end integrated information and
communication technology (ICT) which will help to
facilitate information exchange between factories.
This possibility moves beyond the boundaries of the
individual enterprises involved in the business
In any successful business cooperation there
needs to address monitoring and governance of the
collaborative processes (Shamsuzzoha et al., 2013).
This process monitoring enables to increase the
degree of flexibility within the virtual factory
Shamsuzzoha A., Ferreira F., Abels S., Azevedo A. and Helo P..
Visualization Functionality of Virtual Factories - An Enhancement to Collaborative Business Process Management.
DOI: 10.5220/0004881405990604
In Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems (ICEIS-2014), pages 599-604
ISBN: 978-989-758-028-4
2014 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
partners and helps them to react quickly to changes
and to participate in larger cross-companies
manufacturing processes. The objective of this
research is therefore to focus on process
visualization that is applicable to monitoring and
managing VF business environment. This research
briefly presents all aspects of implementing a
dashboard user interface that is to be used by the VF
partners to process monitoring.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows:
Section 2 presents theoretical framework of the
research, while Section 3 states the conceptual
framework of the virtual factory. Section 4 discusses
the overview of VF process visualization through
dashboard user interface. Section 5 illustrates a case
example, where the dashboard portal is used as a
tool for VF’s processes management. Overall
outcomes from this research are concluded with
future research directions in Section 6.
To be successful in today’s turbulent and
competitive market environment, companies need to
acquire new business models, business strategies,
governance principle, processes and technological
capabilities (Ermilova and Afsarmanesh, 2006).
There are growing challenges towards
manufacturing enterprises such as increased product
variety, product’s complexity and quality demands,
reduced product life cycle and decreased revenue
margins. In order to tackle such challenges
companies, especially small and medium enterprises
(SMEs) need to join efforts with others through
collaboration. This collaboration offers companies to
bring the potential of dynamically adjusting the
needs in terms of dynamic inter-organizational
models, distributed business process management,
integration and coordination.
Due to recent development of ICT influences the
concept of forming collaborative networks that
allow manufacturing organizations to move from
highly data-driven environments to more
cooperative information or knowledge driven
environments (Jeong and Nof, 2009; Camarinha-
Matos et al., 2009). This environment develops
innovative manufacturing processes and products
that are capable of responding rapidly to
changing/uncertain demands, demands for custom-
tailored products and fierce international
competition in the new global economy. Typical
shared expertise, resources and skills through
business collaboration impose companies (SMEs)
high productivity levels for labor and manufacturing
facilities, a high level of agility and the use of new
business models to enhance the production
capabilities beyond companies’ borders.
Different types and forms of business
collaborations are described in the literature based
on the needs and perspectives. For instance virtual
enterprise (VE) or virtual organization (VO), this is
goal-oriented, temporary and is focused on a single
project or business opportunity (Camarinha-Matos et
al., 2005; Shamsuzzoha and Helo, 2012). Other type
of collaboration known as collaborative networked
organization (CNO), which is a network composed
of largely autonomous, geographically distributed
and heterogeneous in terms of operating
environment, culture, social capital and goals
(Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh, 2006). There
is specific type of collaboration network named as
virtual factory (VF), which is considered as the
partnerships between companies, where individual
partners are connected with each other through web-
enabled platform and is formed and operated for
designing and developing of both mass customized
or one-of-a-kind product and service.
The virtual factory (VF) aims at integration of
multiple organizations into one virtual platform for
exploiting a market opportunity. Upton and McAfee
(1996) define virtual factories as “collaborative,
internetworked environments in which several
partners electronically share information and IS
tools around a product (CAD/CAM, simulation-
based design) process, or project”. The VF can be
implemented to ensure that manufacturing processes
and sub-system designs will meet the pre-identified
requirements. It is used as the source of enterprise
knowledge sharing (know-how), adoption of
common best practices and open source/Web-based
applications are enablers to achieve both the concept
of integrated enterprise and the implementation of
collaborative networked enterprises for
manufacturing industry.
Figure 1: A conceptual architectural framework for virtual
factory environment.
The architectural framework for VF is
highlighted in Figure 1. From Figure 1 it is seen that
the framework consists of four different layers such
as user interface layer, process layer, communication
layer and database layer. Each of the layers has its
own contents and functionalities. For instance, user
interface layer of the VF framework responsible for
process visualization, process monitoring and
operation control within the VF, whereas, process
layer acted upon process design, process planning
and scheduling and process execution. Through the
communication layer, VF partners received required
information and transfer to another with secured
way. All the necessary data or information is stored
within the database layer of VF framework, from
where requited information can be retrieved
according to need.
The communication channel between VF
partners’ is maintained through Web-based platform.
This platform is operated by the application of
Internet technology that provides necessary support
to exchange information between VF partners.
Different VF components or layers are connected
with the Web portal through porlets that allows them
to interface with each other for establishing required
communication channel. This channel use as the
base for VF processes monitoring and management
during the execution phase of the VF. Each portlet
of the portal contains restrictive information
depending on the predefined user role. So in the
same Web portal the displayed portlets will be
different for users with different roles.
Project Context
The global cross-industry manufacturing process (so
called virtual factory) is designed using a process
designer tool, where all the semantic annotations are
done as well as the partners’ assignment through.
The partner’s assignment can be based on skills,
time, cost as well as environmental aspects such as
emissions. The partners can be searched on the
Members repository, where any company around the
world can register and describe their services. Figure
2 displays the snap shot of members’ repository
within user interface layer. Within this repository
system, all the required information such as product
lines, lead-time, skills, performances, product costs,
etc., of the possible virtual factory partners is stored.
Figure 2: A snap shot of virtual factory members’
repository system.
Once the global cross-industry manufacturing
process is completed, the selected partners receive
notifications in order to answer the service request.
After all the legal aspects, the process model
(BPMN2) file is translated to the Complex Process
Execution Engine (CPEE) Language. The CPEE is
responsible for the process execution and services
invocation in the partners Legacy Systems.
Process Monitoring Component Context
A solid approach for Process Monitoring has to
consider monitoring and control functionalities for
the process execution, provide meaningful data in
order to allow an up-to-date, real-time diagnosis of
the process execution status. Process Monitoring
should be able to process high amount of data and it
has to be as user friendly as possible. To do so,
several technologies have been evaluated and
applied. Within the approach of the ADVENTURE
project, data is received via Extensible Messaging
and Presence Protocol (XMPP) events subscribed at
the CPEE. Events and associated data are then stored
at the cloud storage – a flexible and scalable data
storage system, being distributed among different
physical servers. A real time monitoring component
shows the process flow status. A Business Intelligent
Engine allows key performance indicators
definition, calculation and analysis. Finally, a Rules
Engine is used to create rules and trigger
notifications to a holistic dashboard.
To realize the holistic dashboard view, a user
based requirements elicitation has been performed
with the help of user consultation in 3 different
manufacturing environments: Mass Customized –
Engineering-To-Order (ETO), Mass Production –
(Make-To-Order) and Mass Production – Assembly
-To-Order (ATO). Details about the user
consultations may be found at the public deliverable
D2.3 of AVENTURE at - After
analysing the user consultations, it became clear that
the process monitoring should be organized in 3
Level 1 – Global View, which monitors all the
virtual factories that a company is participating
Level 2 – Specific process instance level with all
related data and information
Level 3 – Specific process activity level with all
related data and information
Figure 3: An architectural framework for process
Monitoring Engine.
The process Monitoring Engine (Figure 3) counts
with the following subcomponents:
Events Receiver: Responsible for receiving events
with raw data published by the CPEE; stores raw
data in the in the Cloud Storage. XMPP protocol is
Real Time Monitoring: Show the actual status of
process instances, Uses the same UI as Process
Designer in order to have the same look and feel,
Allows identification and tracking of the process
Monitoring Log: Queries finished process
instances; Includes a search engine; Shows
historical data;
Rules Engine: Allows the definition of rules and
associated actions Evaluates rules based on events
and KPI values throws events and notifications to
the dashboard.
Performance Management Engine: Allow the
configuration of Key Performance Indicators
related to the manufacturing processes. Aggregates
and analyses data; provides a graphical display in
the dashboard in order to track KPIs.
Monitoring Services Implements REST Web
services; Provides Meaningful data to the other
components such as the Dashboard.
Based on the data provided by the monitoring
component services, a set of widgets can be included
in a dashboard in order to create a holistic
monitoring environment.
The application of the dashboard user interface as
designed and developed under ADVENTURE
project to be used intensively to process monitoring
and management. To access this user interface layer,
the user needs to register his/her name and detailed
in favour of his/her company within the VF. After
registering in dashboard portal, the user will get a
user name and password to be used to access the
portal. The user roles and access rights are also can
be defined by the VF broker in order to control the
information flow and confidentiality among the VF
partners, potential new companies, suppliers,
customer and the broker. For example, the VF
broker might access all the necessary information to
execute the VF processes successfully, whereas VF
partner might have limited access to the process
information within dashboard portal and so on.
Figure 4 displays the login page of the dashboard
Figure 4: User login page within dashboard portal.
After successful registration and login the user can
access the dashboard portal and visualize his/her
updated information. Figure 5 displays the overall
view of the dashboard portal. From Figure 5, it is
noticed that each widget displays the required
process information using different formats such as
maps, graphs, texts, tables, etc. Each widget has its
own functionality and levels. In order to get detailed
information from each of the widgets, a user might
need to navigate different levels within a widget.
This dashboard portal consists of 13 widgets
such as processes, smart objects, process instances,
resources, virtual production plan, alerts, message
boards, etc., based on different information content
Figure 5: Overall display of dashboard user interface
as required to execute the VF. For instance,
processes widget contains the information related to
process design, process simulation, process
optimization, process adaptation, etc., as necessary
to design and execute any VF process. Figure 6
displays a snap shot of processes widget within the
dashboard portal. This widget contains the necessary
process information such as process flow chart using
BPMN (business process model and notation), all
the processes used in a specific virtual factory
environment (simulation, optimization, forecasting,
etc.,), etc.
Figure 6: Processes widget snap shot within the dashboard
user interface portal.
Figure 7: Alerts widget snap shot within the dashboard
user interface portal.
Another example snap shot of a widget named
‘Alerts’ can be presented as in Figure 7, where
various alerts related to different VF processes are
displayed. These alerts are used to get status update
of different processes that are executing during the
VF runtime environment. The alerts can be in the
form of message such as overdue tasks, pending
tasks, task failure, tasks over budgets, etc. From
these status updates VF broker and/or partners are
able to monitor their corresponding processes and to
take necessary measures to manage the processes
that are eventually contributes to minimize risks or
The virtual factory is a concept that integrates a
group of manufacturing companies with the
objective to achieve pre-identified business
opportunity. Usually, in this type of business
network companies with similar product portfolios
and expertizes are collaborate with each other for
sharing valuable resources and skills for mutual
benefits. This collaboration cannot be successful
until and unless it’s associated business processes
are monitored and managed properly. An effort is
initiated within this research study to monitor VF
business processes through dashboard user interface.
This user interaction layer provides necessary
technical supports to visualize the monitored
data/information within VF processes.
The process monitoring component as presented
in this research highlights briefly its associated sub-
components and their functionalities, which
contribute to trigger an effective and efficient
process monitoring. This component provides
process visualization that is applicable to managing
VF business environment. It focuses on meaningful
monitored data and control functionalities that allow
an up-to-date, real-time information repository. All
the data or information is accessed as user friendly
as possible and displayed over the dashboard portal.
The dashboard portal features state-of-the-art
business intelligence and provides data visualization,
user interfaces and menus to support VF partners to
execute collaborative processes. It presents the high
level process widgets as used to monitor and manage
the virtual factory processes. Each of the widgets
functions based on the user requirements and
contains specific information repository according to
its predefined functionality. All the widgets which
are the integrated part of the dashboard portal
execute required functionalities and visualized the
expected process information over the dashboard. In
addition to, this portal provides an easy way to
visualize the status information of the VF processes
in real-time business environment.
Process visualization over the dashboard portal
provides critical operational metrics (e.g. key
performance indicators) required to manage virtual
factories. Advanced visualizations with quality
graphics offer information updates that bring the
process data to life with clarity. The interactive
dashboard portal supports the flexibility to mould
the data around unique business objectives in real-
time through an intuitive graphical interface. This
research highlights the necessity and reliability of a
dashboard portal which is under developmental
stage and will be completed in future research
approach. The current dashboard portal is tested
upon by using fake data, which will be validated in
future with the real data from a case business
The authors would like to acknowledge the co-
funding of the European Commission in NMP
priority of the Seventh RTD Framework Programme
(2007-13) for the ADVENTURE project (ADaptive
Virtual ENterprise ManufacTURing Environment),
Ref. 285220. The authors also acknowledge the
valuable collaboration provided by the project team
during the research work.
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