'System-of-systems’ performance and reliability in logistics

The Falcon project ran from 2006 until 2010.

This is an archived page.


Modern high-tech systems tend to be very complex and often have strict performance and reliability requirements within other general constraints such as cost, product release schedules, etc. Reliable and effective methods and tools to model, analyze and synthesize such systems are crucial to avoid designs with incomplete functionality, excessive implementation costs, and poor system performance and reliability. Without them the inherent complexity of such high-tech systems often enforces expensive re-designs or late extensions of system designs and implementations.

Research challenge and problem statement

For large complex systems a major design challenge is to meet global system requirements regarding system performance, reliability, functionality, cost, etc. The combination of such goals in general cannot be satisfied in an absolute, clear-cut sense, and gives rise to at least two important, interdependent problems. First, as the requirements often are mutually conflicting the right trade-offs must be identified. Second, the decomposition of the system requirements into feasible component requirements, and the selection of matching component implementations that will integrate into a system meeting the global requirements in an optimal way. Typically, these problems must be solved in a context of many uncertainties and assumptions. These challenges must be appreciated in the light of a number of emerging trends in the high-tech systems industry that lend further urgency to systematic efforts to meet them:

  • Boundaries of products disappear. A continuous widening of product scope and total integration of currently separated functionality takes place. What once were systems are now components of a larger system.

  • A continuous increase of system complexity, requiring a matching growth of the use of sophisticated technology and development methodologies.

  • The demand on up-time and applicability during the lifetime of a product enforces the need for product upgrading and product service.

  • More and more, companies are horizontally organized. As a consequence, components are purchased and integrated into larger systems.

The above trends further aggravate the problems of rapidly increasing development costs, development times, and cost of ownership for customers.

For Falcon the problem to deal with can be summarized as follows: “find and develop efficient means to be able to analyze, design and implement layered systems which shall comply with stringent requirements on performance, reliability, cost, development time, ….”

The industrial reference case: a new generation of distribution centers

To achieve the Falcon research objectives focus is needed. For this we have chosen industrial scale logistic systems as research driver. The project concentrates on a new generation of distribution centers and warehouses with a maximum degree of automation. For this type of system it will look for new architectures, optimize the vast set of parallel processes determining the goods flow, and investigate and design automated solutions for goods handling and composing orders (so-called order picking).

Falcon research objectives and activities

The Falcon project will address the development of techniques and tools for the design of and implementation of professional systems. In particular it will focus on the optimization and decomposition of global requirements concerning system performance, reliability, and cost using a model-driven approach. Starting with high-level system models, system models will be created for different design abstraction levels to analyze and guide the (de-)composition and propagation of design requirements over system components.

The project shall provide industrial critical evidence. Concepts shall be proven by demonstrators of components (related to item picking), and of optimal system design (integrated control and handling). At the end of the project the final demonstrator is expected to be a partial prototype of the “Distribution Centre of the future” proving the integral concept on an industrial relevant scale.

The research activities will be guided by three lines of attention.

Systems engineering, covering

  • architectural concepts for a distribution centre,

  • model based analyses and optimization of this type of systems (using the Effective Process Time principle, target cascading and optimal control theory),

  • model based engineering to generate proper control software.

System operational performance, covering

  • the actual control implementation to obtain the as designed system performance,

  • methods and algorithms to handle errors and exceptions and maintain system performance as best as possible,

  • the ability of the system in operation to handle new incoming items,

  • the use of vision and pattern recognition for the stacking of items,

  • the building and testing of demonstrators to prove industrial scale feasibility.

Critical component design (related to item handling and picking), covering

  • analysis of goods handling,

  • the design of a manipulator arm and grippers and real-time vision aspects involved,

  • the design of gropers (simple and robust grasping mechanisms).

Given the specific application domain of the project the research will have strong multi-disciplinary aspects, requiring expertise in different technical and scientific domains, including algorithmics, embedded software, electronic hardware, mechatronics, etc. To be successful it will need to establish meaningful combinations of the analytic, modeling, and implementation techniques of the various disciplines.

Falcon organization

The Falcon project is a joint endeavor of a consortium of industrial and academic partners with the Embedded Systems Institute (ESI) having the Project Management responsibility. The carrying industrial partner is Vanderlande Industries. Academic partners are Eindhoven University of Technology, Delft University of Technology, University of Twente and University of Utrecht. Small & Medium Enterprises will become involved for the hardware realization of demonstrators.

For a significant part of their project time the researchers are co-located at the ESI facilities in Eindhoven. Temporary co-locations at Vanderlande Industries in Veghel are expected for knowledge build-up and during integration and test on an integral demonstrator prototype.

The project is partly funded by the Dutch government.

The project started October 1, 2006.


The Falcon publications can be found on the publications page; search for darwin