Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company Limited

Ushering in Industry 4.0 with an agile approach to systems engineering

ASTRI is committed to helping customers create smart manufacturing equipment quickly and accelerate digital transformation. With IBM® Engineering Systems Design Rhapsody® software, ASTRI uses Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) processes to create a digital “twin” of the equipment it’s working on, which helps engineers develop and test software earlier and identify defects sooner.

Business challenge

To help develop smart manufacturing technology, Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company Limited (ASTRI) wanted to introduce a more agile development approach for its customers.


ASTRI adopted requirements-driven analysis and model-based design using Engineering Systems Design Rhapsody software, resulting in reduced integration time and decreased costs.

Results 40% reduction
in the time required to integrate software systems into physical equipment
30% decrease
in development costs using the digital and physical twin approach
Recognized at the Hong Kong Awards for Industries
with the prize for Equipment and Machinery Design in 2018
Business challenge story
A new industrial revolution

We’re in the middle of an industrial revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, is the next step in manufacturing. It’s the digital transformation of traditional manufacturing, and it involves adding automation, smart technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) to manufacturing equipment, resulting in smart machines that can collaborate, self-diagnose problems and fix themselves.

ASTRI was founded in 2000 to promote Hong Kong’s competitiveness in technology-based industries through applied research. The Cyber-Physical Systems department at ASTRI is dedicated to using MBSE to design, synthesize and validate mission-critical systems for smart factories in the Industry 4.0 era. The department creates solutions that help its manufacturing customers optimize the entire engineering life cycle to shorten time to market, reduce development costs and enhance quality standards.

“I think digitalization is the key word for enabling Industry 4.0,” says Dr. T. John Koo, Director of Cyber-Physical Systems at ASTRI. “The digital world has enabled many great creations in the information technology domain, but digitalization for manufacturing means that it is time to really connect the physical world with the digital one.”

However, while adding the digital technology to manufacturing equipment brings many benefits, it also introduces new challenges. Manufacturers can’t afford to shut down an assembly line to fix a bug in the equipment’s software or to troubleshoot a network failure. ASTRI wanted to find a way to more effectively iterate on the development of smart equipment that its manufacturing customers need to optimize operations, improve quality, increase productivity and address the rising costs of manufacturing.

I think digitalization is the key word for enabling Industry 4.0. Dr. T. John Koo Director of Cyber-Physical Systems Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company Limited
Transformation story
A digital twin accelerates development

ASTRI adopted an approach to requirements-driven analysis and design that allows for a more agile way to develop smarter manufacturing equipment. The company creates “twin” versions of the piece of equipment it’s working on, one physical version and one digital version.

ASTRI creates the digital twin with its system model using Engineering Systems Design Rhapsody software. The IBM software enables MBSE with its support for Systems Modeling Language (SysML) and Unified Modeling Language (UML) for modeling, simulation, testing and code generation. Using the system model, design engineers can then perform simulations and tests on the digital twin. If the engineers identify any design defects, they can analyze and resolve them using the Engineering Systems Design Rhapsody software. Once the digital twin is performing well, the application code is compiled and loaded onto the physical twin.

Testing the digital twin enables ASTRI to find design defects much earlier in the development cycle. “With the conventional approach, we can’t do any testing until we have the full software and hardware in place,” says Koo. “That meant we could only test the finished physical system, which meant we were finding defects much later in the development cycle.” Plus, model-based systems development enables the team to solicit and validate customer requirements early in the life cycle and allows greater agility in handling future design changes.

The digital twin also makes it easier to collaborate on the development of the project. Engineering teams that used to rely on text-based documentation can now use the digital assets from the digital twin as the basis for collaboration.

Results story
Creating award-winning smart equipment

Using the digital twin, ASTRI engineers have significantly reduced the amount of time needed to validate software performance on the physical twin. In addition, MBSE enables the team to solicit and validate customer requirements earlier in the development life cycle and allows greater agility in handling future design changes. ASTRI estimates that the twin approach has reduced integration time by 40% and cut the total cost of development by 30%.

Using this new methodology, ASTRI co-created robotic equipment called the collaborative mobile manipulator (CMM) with one of its customers. The CMM is designed to operate autonomously in a clean-room environment without any human intervention. The CMM is equipped with depth sensors, a vision system and a manipulator that allows for conducing navigation in the environment and performing pick-and-place tasks.

Since its successful development, the CMM has been running 24x7, doing work that previously required five operators in each work shift. ASTRI and its customer co-received the prize for Equipment and Machinery Design at the prestigious Hong Kong Awards for Industries (HKAI) in 2018 for the CMM.

ASTRI anticipates that demand for smart industry equipment such as the CMM will continue to increase. “The demand was high before, but it’s extremely high after COVID-19,” says Koo. “COVID has created every kind of disruption. And there’s an increased demand for all kinds of products, such as medical devices. There are numerous reasons why manufacturing facilities would need to run 24 hours a day, so automation and robotics will be increasingly in demand.”

After receiving training from IBM on the Engineering Systems Design Rhapsody software, ASTRI engineers are positioned to continue helping ASTRI customers shorten development time, while ensuring the quality and reliability of the systems they are developing.

Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company Limited  Logo
Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute Company Limited

ASTRI (link resides outside IBM.com) was founded in 2000 by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness in technology-based industries through applied research. ASTRI’s R&D activities focus on Smart City, Financial Technologies, Intelligent Manufacturing, Health Technologies and Application-Specific Integrated Circuits. ASTRI has built a rich portfolio of intellectual properties and nurtured many talented researchers for various industries and sectors. ASTRI has approximately 670 employees in its facilities at the Hong Kong Science Park in Shatin.

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Produced in the United States of America, February 2021.

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