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Researcher of the week – Antonio Maffei

Published Mar 08, 2022

Once a week, researchers present themselves and how they contribute to the important industrial transformation for climate and competitiveness. This week’s researcher is Antonio Maffei, Associate Professor on Production System with focus on Business Models at the Department of Production Engineering, ITM.

Why is the industry's transformation to meet climate change in a competitive manner important to you?

Antonio Maffei, Associate Professor, ITM. Photo: Private

"I think the climate change is the biggest challenge of this century, but it is also a great opportunity to rethink our development model. I particularly like that we are now talking of industrial transformation rather than industrial revolution.

Revolution has a semantic connotation related with unforeseeable events leading to uncertain output. While past industrial revolutions have undoubtedly enhanced living standard of many, they have also created enormous global inequalities and actively promoted destruction of the environment.

In this sense the main narrative has always been: technology is new “soil” or new “oil”. Now when we speak of transformation the narrative is different. Transition is semantically opposed to revolution: it is a process of change that has a desired, foreseeable final state. We are now speaking of sustainability development goals, closing the loop, zero emissions.

My hope, and the reason why I am working in this field, is that this new focus will help us eliminate the drawbacks of uncontrolled growth while allowing us to advance in our quest to enhance living standard of all the people," Antonio Maffei  says.

How are you contributing to the transformation?

"Industrial transformations have historically always been driven by novel ways of harnessing technology. One of the key dynamics in this transition is a changing labour/capital balance: the future generation of workers is more and more familiar and keen to work with digital tools. Industrial automation based on AI is also a rising trend that I am particularly interested in.

By working on the concept of Business Model Innovation I hope to contribute to correctly frame and use several industry 4.0 research trends (IIoT, Cobots, AM, Horizontal and Vertical Integration, Cloud computing) that are concurring to overcome capital and knowledge barriers and expand the application domain though the realization of a new generation of production automation concepts that addresses the knowledge gap by conceiving modular “plug and produce” systems that exhibit self-X behaviour: self-learning, self-organization, self-diagnose, self-maintenance.

This results in a shift from an Engineer To Order (ETO) approach to a Configure To Order (CTO) approach. This, in turn, relaxes the capital gap by introducing alternative and more efficient business models based on renting and leasing manufacturing automation, rather than owning it. The resulting “pay per use” scheme turns the traditional fixed automation costs into variable costs. This allows both, optimization of resource use for incumbent firms and access to the automation market for SMEs.

Finally, I think one important contribution is in my activities related with the education of future engineers. For this reason, my research work is often also becoming part of what I share with the learners at KTH and I maintain myself an active researcher in the domain of pedagogy for higher education."

What do you hope to have achieved with your research in ten years?

"I hope I will have contributed with actable knowledge in the domain of Business Model Innovation and consequently promote the envisaged shift from ownership-based economies, to sharing economies that will also have the effect to transform the linear lifecycle of such installation into circular, multiple, lifecycles. This transition towards sustainable business models is also a high priority for KTH. Existing applications addressing those research goals are still in a medium TRL level.

My planned work is posed to show how technology available today can be used to deliver industrial system exhibiting the features described above and thus overcoming the technological and financial challenges of today ETO manufacturing automation system. This will, in turn, enable a shift towards more efficient and sustainable solutions that go beyond the current objective of CTO and effectively embody a new paradigm that could be described as Plug To Order (PTO)."

What do you wish KTH to contribute with in regard to competitive industry transformation?

"I think the potential impact of KTH is two-fold. First on the education of future engineers that are reasoning in term of transition to a greener economy rather than being the driver of simple technology harnessing for profit. This has also of course a complex ethical dimension that must be considered at every step when removing the trade-off that characterize the old economy playground.

KTH is a global player in many domains of applied knowledge. So we can develop knowledge and practices with our academic and industrial partners to support that transition through our research activities. Dissemination in traditional academic forum is not sufficient, we must expand our communication strategy to a wider audience: our research results must be accessible and comprehensible to be the driver of the desired change."

About Researcher of the week