The BGSMath and the UPF bring over mathematicians and companies to improve the digital revolution of the Industry 4.0

BGSMath and UPF bring maths to companies to facilitate Industry 4.0 digital revolution

On Monday 19 February, the Math for Industry event brought together mathematicians working in statistics, modelling and data science and companies best placed to enter the digital transformation. The conference was one of the initiatives in Mobile Week Barcelona.

Maths is the highway of the future industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0. The Barcelona Graduate School of Mathematics (BGSMath), in conjunction with Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) in the context of Mobile Week, organised a conference on the topic: ‘Maths for Industry 4.0’, on 19 February.

The event saw participation by maths research groups working in the areas of statistics, operational research, data science and modelling, and companies and organisations requiring digital transformation.

Extracting knowledge from information

‘The growing quantification of industries has generated an avalanche of data that could impede industrial transformation,’ explains Arantxa Sanz, head of the BGSMath research programme. ‘For many companies and industries, this is a new challenge. And it is not just a calculation problem. Mathematicians offer these companies a competitive advantage because we help them extract knowledge from information.’

Among the participants of the round table on optimising data analysis during Maths for Industry 4.0, were Helena Ramalhinho, director of the UPF Business Analytics research group and a member of BGSMath. She is head of numerous projects focused on improving industrial processes and management by developing models, algorithms and new methods.

Some examples of optimisation problems in which the group has worked are product picking from warehouses, product delivery distribution routes for online sales companies, the location of facilities in medical centres and improving human resource planning, such as for drivers in a public transport company.

‘The competitive advantage of a good maths team could help a digitalised company make financial savings of 20% to 30% and significant improvements in their customer service’, explains Ramalhinho. ‘Universities have the capacity to innovate and invent, and companies provide us with real problems and data with which to work’.

One of the best ways of promoting university-industry partnerships is the creation of the Government of Catalonia’s Industrial Doctorates Plan, managed by the Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR), the University Services Consortium of Catalonia (CSUC) and the Secretariat for Universities and Research. During the conference, BGSMath presented success stories of partnerships with companies such as Seat, BBVA and Horizons Optical.

Pedro Díez, who is tutoring a thesis in conjunction with Seat on quantifying uncertainty in crash simulations and is director of the Numerical Calculation Laboratory (LACAN) of the UPC-Barcelona Tech, and is also a member of BGSMath. ‘We choose a real physical problem provided by industry and seek mathematical tools to find a numerical computational solution’, explained Díez.

The LACAN has worked on mathematical and computational modelling in areas as different as radar simulation for self-driving cars, wave propagation to analyse port operations and the long-term resistance of concrete containers for nuclear waste.

Contact with industry is ‘motivating’, according to Díez, ‘because it helps us find relevant problems, and we highlight the value of our technologies in solving them. It is a challenge, because we have to learn to formulate the problem offered by industry in mathematical terms’.

Another group, that of Montse Guillén, director of the University of Barcelona’s Riskcenter and a member of BGSMath, works to develop tools to make maximum use of data, in this case, in statistics applied to risk analysis.

‘When you work in the real world’, explains Guillén, ‘you often cannot test the hypotheses of your mathematical model. However, the real result might not be too different from the theoretical one: and for this special methods are used’. She also notes that people who work with industry have to learn to communicate results in words: ‘Numbers have to be converted into decisions for companies’, she says.

The DataScience@UB group, headed by Jordi Vitrià, works in the field of machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence. ‘Machine learning has a very important impact on practical life, even if technically it is very complicated’, he says. ‘This makes it an ideal topic for an industrial doctorate’. Along with others, his group works with the BBVA on Bayesian models to calculate uncertainty in finance.

Mathematical creativity

According to the director of BGSMath and lecturer at UPC-Barcelona Tech, Marc Noy, ‘if industry truly wants to make the leap to digitisation in its processes and in artificial intelligence, i.e. Industry 4.0, it needs the creativity of mathematicians. BGSMath is already involved in fruitful partnerships with companies, which we want to strengthen even further. The industrial doctorates are the optimum tool for coordinating such partnerships.

‘While carrying out cutting-edge, theoretical and practical research, we want to train a new generation of mathematicians capable of connecting with other disciplines and other areas outside academia, such as companies or public administrations. Our ambition is to train highly qualified people and also citizens capable of bringing about major changes in society’, he concludes.

The contribution by Jordi Alba from the Industrial Doctorates Plan executive team can be seen in full in the video below.

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