Dr Regina Frei

Associate Professor of Digital Economy Micro-Engineering, MSc, PhD, FHEA, MIET, Chartered Engineer




Frei R (2023). A new retail industry for product returns. Materials Recycling World, May 2023.  (download)

Maulida Butar Butar, David Sanders, Regina Frei (2016)Measuring performance of reverse supply chains in a carpet manufacturer, In: Journal of Advanced Management Science4(2) Engineering and Technology Publishing

Increasing attention has been given to the reverse supply chain because of the increasing value of products and technology at the end of direct supply chains as well as the impact of new green legislation. Design strategies for reverse supply chains have remained relatively unexplored and underdeveloped. Meanwhile measuring supply chain performance has also become important as understanding, collaboration and integration has increased between supply chain members. It has also helped companies to target profitable market segments or identify areas for service improvement. This paper will focus on measuring performance of reverse supply chains in carpet manufacturers. A simple general framework of the company is presented as well as mathematical models. This simple general model can be to be applied by small medium enterprises to optimise their reverse supply chain systems.

Regina Frei, Angela Bines, Iain Lothian, Lisa Jack (2017)Understanding reverse supply chains, In: International Journal of Supply Chain Management and Operations Resilience2(3)pp. 246-266 Inderscience Publishers

Reverse supply chains take a variety of forms, depending on the nature of the product, the business model, the stakeholders and other factors. This article will contribute to a better understanding of how different types of reverse supply chains function, how they can be modelled and their performance assessed. The research is based on a semi-structured approach using case studies, interviews and qualitative analysis. A generic RSC model is suggested in conjunction with an analysis of circumstances and factors of influence, with the intention to trigger further investigation. A better understanding of RSC may lead to more companies engaging in returning products and materials to the process of usefulness suggested by the Circular Economy concept, hence leading to a more sustainable way of running manufacturing businesses.

Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Regina Frei (2012)Self-awareness in agile assembly systems, In: Awareness Magazine: Self-awareness in Autonomic Systems

Assembly systems consisting of self-aware robotic modules react to incoming production orders by combining their services.

Irdanto Saputra Lase, Regina Frei, Mengfeng Gong, Diego Vazquez-Brust, Evelien Peeters, Geert Roelans, Jo Dewulf, Kim Ragaert, Steven De Meester (2023)A method to develop potential business cases of plastic recycling from urban areas: A case study on non-household end-use plastic film waste in Belgium, In: ACS sustainable chemistry & engineering American Chemical Society

Waste management of non-household end-use plastic waste receives considerably less attention compared to household waste. This article develops and applies a cost-benefit analysis model to develop potential business cases for selective collection and mechanical recycling scenarios of non-household end-use plastic film waste from urban areas considering the City of Ghent in Belgium and twelve municipalities nearby as a case study. Three different collection frequencies (weekly, fortnightly, monthly) and two different mechanical recycling plant layouts (basic and advanced configuration) are considered. Data on waste quantity, composition, and economic parameters are collected from real sampling from urban areas combined with information from literature. In the most favorable scenarios, results show that the annual costs of collecting and recycling are estimated to be in the range of €635–€1,445/tonne output, depending on the collection frequencies and plant configurations. Mechanical recycling yields 48–77% regranulates, depending on the plant configuration and feedstock quality. Scale is essential for plastic recycling plants development; a positive net economic balance (ranging from €5–€537/tonne output) is achieved when at least 10,500 tonnes/year of waste is collected (fortnightly or monthly) and processed. The recycling systems become economically more effective as the processing capacity increases. It is imperative to maintain high feedstock quality as the recycling systems become economically less favorable when the residue content in the collected plastic film waste exceeds 30–35%. A greenhouse gas emissions calculation indicates minimizing residue and promoting high-quality feedstock from collected waste are the key to increasing the carbon footprint savings of recycling.

Danni Zhang, Regina Frei, Steffen Bayer, P K Senyo, Gary Wills, Enrico Gerding, Adrian Beck (2022)The impact of COVID-19 on managing product returns in retail, In: The 6th World Conference on Production and Operations ManagementAugust

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected customers' shopping and returns behaviour and significantly aggravated the problem of high product returns rates and returns fraud. Measures for public health and safety resulted in retailers modifying their returns processes. The effects of these changes on returns management are unclear; very little is known about what retailers have experienced in terms of product returns during the pandemic. This paper addresses this research gap via a series of semi-structured interviews and a consumer survey. Our findings include a list of recommendations for retailers to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on returns and related fraud.

Susanne Klein, Michael P. Avery, Robert Richardson, Paul Bartlett, Regina Frei, Steve Simske (2015)3D printed glass: surface finish and bulk properties as a function of the printing process, In: MVO Segovia, P Urban, F H Imai (eds.), MEASURING, MODELING, AND REPRODUCING MATERIAL APPEARANCE 20159398pp. 93980R-93980R-9 Spie-Int Soc Optical Engineering

It is impossible to print glass directly from a melt, layer by layer. Glass is not only very sensitive to temperature gradients between different layers but also to the cooling process. To achieve a glass state the melt, has to be cooled rapidly to avoid crystallization of the material and then annealed to remove cooling induced stress. In 3D-printing of glass the objects are shaped at room temperature and then fired. The material properties of the final objects are crucially dependent on the frit size of the glass powder used during shaping, the chemical formula of the binder and the firing procedure. For frit sizes below 250 mu m, we seem to find a constant volume of pores of less than 5%. Decreasing frit size leads to an increase in the number of pores which then leads to an increase of opacity. The two different binders, 2-hydroxyethyl cellulose and carboxymethylcellulose sodium salt, generate very different porosities. The porosity of samples with 2-hydroxyethyl cellulose is similar to frit-only samples, whereas carboxymethylcellulose sodium salt creates a glass foam. The surface finish is determined by the material the glass comes into contact with during firing.

Regina Frei, Iain Lothian, Maulida Butar Butar, Angela Bines, Lilly Da Gama (2015)Performance of reverse supply chains

Globalised trade and pressure on resources require supply chains to become more sustainable, which includes the need for material flows to become closed loops. Reverse Supply Chains (RSC) recover parts and products from end customers or any other stage of the supply chain and feeds them back into the supply network for reuse, remanufacturing, recycling or proper disposal. In thisway, RSCs contribute to manufacturing becoming more sustainable ecologically, economically and socially. However, most companies are unaware of their RSC and therefore miss out on beneficial opportunities. This paper explores the current situation in industry and refers to relevant literature. A first version of an RSC framework is suggested, together with examples and discussion.

Regina Frei, Nils Bausch (2016)Additive manufacturing as a socio-technical system, In: International Journal of Latest Engineering and Management Research1(10)

The enthusiasm for 3D printing is quickly spreading around the world. Technological advances in 3D printing and other techniques initially intended for rapid prototyping make it possible to produce sophisticated parts with relatively simple means. While it gives people the possibility to fabricate sophisticated objects by themselves, it comes with challenges and considerable drawbacks. 3D printers using recycled materials are still rare, and the rubbish island swimming in the Oceans is growing fast. Additive manufacturing leads to a change in the manufacturing world involving technology and society. With the integration of 3D scanning, virtual design worlds, and 3D printing, the separation between the physical and virtual worlds gradually vanishes. Being able to produce almost anything anywhere and at any time will lead to changes in the way industrial manufacturing and supply chains work – reducing transportation but also efficiency. People will increasingly produce things at home or in local manufacturing communities, using both original and self-made designs. This has implications for the environment, intellectual property laws, the economy and other aspects like safety and security. This article analyses the trend towards personal manufacturing and its many implications. Sketching a socio-technical model of this emerging system, it makes preliminary recommendations for regulating policies.

Nils Bausch, David P. Dawkins, Regina Frei, Susanne Klein (2016)3D Printing onto Unknown Uneven Surfaces, In: IFAC PAPERSONLINE49(21)pp. 583-590 Elsevier

Since its inception, 3D printing has seen a wide area of applications, but a general approach to printing onto unknown objects has not been tackled yet. Nowadays 3D scanning technology can be used for reverse engineering. Multiple axis machines enable the creation of object layers at diferent deposition angles, and printing on uneven surfaces is achieved by conformal printing. In this paper, a new methodology is presented, which combines 3D scanning, multiple axis 3D printing, and conformal printing to create an afordable 3D printing system, which can deposit material onto a priori unknown uneven objects. A prototype system was developed, which can print a frst layer on top of a previously unknown object. The creation of further layers is work in progress. The application areas for such a method could include repairing structures, product customization, printing security features on existing objects, adding functionality by, for example, printing antennas on items, and modifying prosthetics to fit individual patients. (C) 2016, IFAC (International Federation of Automatic Control) Hosting Elsevier Ltd. All rights reseirved.

Nils Bausch, David P. Dawkins, Regina Frei (2017)InSPIREd - Advances in Conformal Printing: 3D Printing onto Unknown Uneven Surfaces, In: 2017 IEEE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ADVANCED INTELLIGENT MECHATRONICS (AIM)pp. 430-435 IEEE

The term Conformal Printing refers to 3D printing onto uneven surfaces. Whilst some very high priced solutions exist for known uneven surfaces, where the toolpath is generated in advance, based on CAD data of the object to be printed onto, there is nothing available yet for conformal printing onto unknown uneven surfaces that are scanned on-the-fly. A low-cost prototype named 'InSPIREd' was recently developed to achieve this, made possible with a combination of multi-disciplinary expertise, ingenuity and problem tackling know how, and the latest improvements are presented in this paper. The prototype now includes more capable scanning technology and a simplified calibration procedure.

Lisa Jack, Regina Frei, Sally-Ann Caroline Krzyzaniak (2019)Buy online, return to store: the challenges and opportunities of product returns in a multichannel environment ECR Community
Lisa Jack, Regina Frei, Sally-Ann Caroline Krzyzaniak (2019)The hidden costs of online shopping – for customers and retailers, In: The Conversation
Regina Frei, Lisa Jack, Sally‐Ann Krzyzaniak (2020)Sustainable reverse supply chains and circular economy in multichannel retail returns, In: Business strategy and the environment29(5)pp. 1925-1940

The percentage of products being returned in multichannel retail are high and further increasing, yet many retailers and manufacturers are unaware of the importance and scale of this issue. They consider dealing with returns as a cost of doing business and are oblivious of the potential for conflicts between their corporate social responsibility commitments and their returns practices. This article investigates how far sustainable practices and circular economy concepts have been implemented in retail returns systems; it identifies vulnerabilities, barriers, and challenges to the implementation of sustainable, circular practices and suggests ways to overcome them, as sustainability, loss prevention, and profit optimisation can go hand in hand with the right approach to the organisation of the reverse supply chain. Implications of this research on strategic management are outlined. The research was conducted using in‐depth interviews and observations with four major retailers in the United Kingdom, 17 structured interviews, 100 retailer website reviews, and three retail community workshops, all with British and other European retailers.

Irish fast-fashion retailer Primark has no plans to sell its clothes online. This is despite the company warning that lockdown store closures could cost it losses of more than £1 billion. The retailer has shut 305 of its 389 global stores – including 190 in the UK. Primark has just announced a 30% sales fall to £2 billion in the 16 weeks leading to January 2, adding that this loss could mean price rises.

Denise Baden, Regina Frei (2022)Product Returns: An Opportunity to Shift towards an Access-Based Economy?, In: Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland)14(1)410 Mdpi

With the rise in online purchases, returns polices have become more lenient to maximise sales, leading to increased product returns. This results in considerable costs to businesses due to complex returns systems, and environmental costs due to unnecessary transportation and waste. Unsustainable consumption poses a threat to our environment, and access-based business models whereby products are borrowed/rented rather than purchased have been proposed as a way to align customer needs, business success, and sustainability. Product returns often constitute a form of informal or illegitimate borrowing, as goods are bought with the intention of being returned. In this discussion paper we propose that, instead of being viewed as a threat to business, issues with high product returns could be seen as an opportunity to switch to an access-based model. As product returns escalate, businesses will need to invest substantially in their reverse supply chains. We propose that a more strategic approach might be to leapfrog the costly stage of developing more efficient returns systems, and move straight to formalising product returns as the new normal for those goods that would best suit an access-based model, so that processes are streamlined around borrowing and returning rather than around sales.

Regina Frei, Lisa Jack, Sally-Ann Krzyzaniak (2022)Mapping Product Returns Processes in Multichannel Retailing: Challenges and Opportunities, In: Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland)14(3)1382 Mdpi

An increasing percentage of products in multichannel retail are being returned, yet many retailers and manufacturers are not aware of the importance and scale of this issue. Similarly, the literature on online returns is limited. Returns processes can be very complicated, contain many manual steps that have several variations, unclear decision-making rules and, at the handling stage, often involve low-wage third-party employees guided by patchy IT systems. This article maps the complexity of product returns processes, highlights challenges and identifies opportunities for improvement, thereby contributing to a deeper understanding of the emerging field of product returns research. It also concludes that it is essential for returns to be made a strategic priority at the senior management level, implementing a Lean approach to returns systems. The research was based on 4 case studies, 17 structured interviews and 3 retail community workshops, all with British and other Western European retailers. Through triangulation of individual data, a generic process map for retail returns was created and implications for sustainability, loss prevention and profit optimisation are examined.

Regina Frei, Mengfeng Gong, Diego Vazquez-Brust, Virginie Litaudon (2023)PlastiCity Scenarios and Modelling: Plastic Waste Collection in Urban Environments, In: Proceedings of the Operational Research Society Simulation Workshop 2023 (SW23) Operational Research Society Limited

Within the scope of PlastiCity, an Interreg2Seas project (2019-2022), a set of scenarios were developed for the collection of plastic waste in the urban environments of Ghent (Belgium), Douai (France), The Hague (The Netherlands), and Southend-on-Sea (UK). This included the exploration of alternative vehicles like CargoBikes and electro-vans, in comparison to conventional diesel-powered refuse collection vehicles. For each city, we developed an individual scenario and executed optimisations to compare different collection strategies and frequencies in terms of distance travelled, time used, as well as costs and emissions generated. We used OptiFlow, a logistics optimisation software made available by Conundra, a startup from Ghent University. The main challenge was the unavailability of realistic data on plastic waste volumes for different types of small and medium businesses and organisations in these urban environments, which was at least partially due to pandemic restrictions. Thus, our modelling is mostly to be understood as ways to explore different scenarios and constraints, such as a very limited loading capacity on CargoBikes.

Danni Zhang, Regina Frei, P.K. Senyo, Steffen Bayer, Enrico Gerding, Gary Wills, Adrian Beck (2023)Understanding fraudulent returns and mitigation strategies in multichannel retailing, In: Journal of retailing and consumer services70103145 Elsevier Ltd

The growth of online retailing has exceeded expectations over the last few years. This has resulted in high product return rates, which retailers are struggling with due to complex and costly returns processing, logistics, and financial implications. Additionally, online returns come with increased opportunities for returns fraud. During the pandemic, new types of returns fraud have emerged and returns fraud rates have increased across all channels. Based on a series of semi-structured interviews with retailers and retail experts, we investigate factors that enable fraudulent returns from consumers' and retailers’ perspectives and outline strategies for retailers to combat product returns fraud in a multichannel environment, leading to a framework for retail fraud. We contribute critical insights to research and practices on understanding and addressing a growing problem that has economic, social and environmental implications. •We explore various types of product returns fraud in a multichannel retail environment and categorise them.•We indicate how common they are, whether they have recently emerged or changed, and in which channels they occur.•We indicate which retailer related factors enable fraudulent returns and what interventions can reduce fraudulent returns.•We present a framework for product returns fraud in a multichannel environment.•The framework includes drivers of product returns related to retailers, customers, products, and external factors.

Danni Zhang, Steffen Bayer, Gary Wills, Regina Frei, Enrico Gerding, P K Senyo (2022)Using big data analytics to combat retail fraud, In: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Finance, Economics, Management and IT Business FEMIB - Volume 11pp. 85-92

Fraudulent returns are seen as a misfortune for most retailers because it reduces sales and induce greater costs and challenges in returns management. While extant research suggests one of the causes is retailers’ liberal return policies and that retailers should restrict their policies, there is no study systematically exploring the impacts of various return policies and fraud interventions on reducing different types of fraudulent behaviour and the costs and benefits of associated interventions. In this paper, we first undertook semi-structured interviews with retailers in the UK and North America to gain insights into their fraud intervention strategies, as well as conducted literature review on fraudulent returns to identify the influential factors that lead customers to return products fraudulently. On this basis, we developed a simulation model to help retailers forecast fraudulent returns and explore how different combinations of interventions might affect the cases of fraudulent returns and associated financial impacts on profitability. The background literature on fraudulent returns, the findings of interviews, and the demonstration and implications of the model on reducing fraudulent returns and related financial impacts are discussed. Our model allows retailers to make cost- effective evaluations and adopt their fraud prevention strategies effectively based on their business models.

Danni Zhang, Regina Frei, P K Senyo, Steffen Bayer, Gary Wills, Enrico Gerding (2022)Sustainability of product returns

Product returns are harmful to the environment due to increased transportation, waste and emissions (Frei et al., 2020). Whilst literature recognises the importance of sustainability in operations and supply chains, there is limited research on the environmental impact of returns and retailers’ views on sustainability in returns. To address these gaps, the first phase of this research consisted of a review of academic and other publications (e.g., blogs and reports by reverse logistics companies) to gain a comprehensive picture of the current product returns sustainability research and practice. The second phase was to undertake semi-structured interviews with retailers in the UK and Canada. We also participated in member sessions with the Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) Retail Loss Group to learn about the risks of implementing a sustainability strategy in returns under uncertain conditions in a pandemic world. The results from our first phase indicate that most sustainability studies to date excluded the analysis of returns (e.g., Mangiaracina et al., 2015). Although environmental assessment methods, such as Material flow analysis and Life-cycle assessment (Withanage and Habib, 2021), can assist practitioners in making more sustainable decisions in their forward supply chains, no study has proposed a systematic evaluation of the environmental impacts of reverse supply chains. Future research should assess this to help reduce the ecological damage caused by returns. The interviews conducted in the second phase revealed that retailers have only recently started paying attention to the returns’ financial impact. Many commented that they have not gained enough experience yet to manage returns sustainably. This is exacerbated by the lack of data and communications on returns’ costs and wastes ecologically. Additionally, the reverse logistics on returned products need further sustainable development. The scientific understanding of returns and their degrees of (un-)sustainability is still at an early stage. Retailers also highlighted that because of the pandemic, increased returns resulted in excessive transportation and processing (e.g., returned products needing quarantine). They are uncertain whether current customers’ returns behaviours will persist after the pandemic and are concerned about more unnecessary waste. Based on the obtained results, we produced recommendations on improving the ecological sustainability of returns. Overall, our study has made both practical and theoretical contributions in the field of sustainable returns operations and circular economy.

R. Frei, S. Macbeth, J. Pitt, G. Di Marzo Serugendo (2012)Simulation of complex emergent and self-healing structures in Presage and based on MetaSelf, In: International Conference on Through-life Engineering Services (TESConf)pp. 337-344 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
R. McWilliam, A. Purvis, Dan Jones, P. Schiefer, R. Frei, A. Tiwari (2012)Self-repairing electronic logic units based on convergent cellular automata, In: International Conference on Through-life Engineering Services (TESConf) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
R. Frei (2010)Self-organisation in evolvable assembly systems Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Regina Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2014)Self-healing software, In: Jeremy Pitt (eds.), The Computer After Me Imperial College Press
M. Puviani, G. Cabri, R. Frei (2012)Self-healing in ensembles' collaboration patterns, In: International Conference on Through-life Engineering Services (TESConf) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Regina Frei (2016)Reverse supply chains, In: Catherine Weetman (eds.), A Circular Economy handbook for business and supply chainspp. 323-329 Kogan Page
J. Barata, M. Onori, R. Frei, P. Leitao (2007)Evolvable production systems: enabling research domains, In: 2nd International Conference on Changeable, Agile, Reconfigurable and Virtual Production (CARV 2007) CIRP
Natalia Yakovleva, Regina Frei, Sudhir Rama Murthy (2019)Editorial: Achieving sustainable development goals through sustainable supply chains in the post-global economy, In: Natalia Yakovleva, Regina Frei, Sudhir Rama Murthy (eds.), Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainable Supply Chains in the Post-Global Economy Springer, Heidelberg
Regina Frei, Bruno Ferreira, Jose Barata (2008)Dynamic coalitions for self-organizing manufacturing systems, In: Proceedings of the 6th CIRP International Conference on Intelligent Computation in Manufacturing Engineering - CIRP ICME '08, 23-25 July 2008, Naples, Italy CIRP
G. Di Marzo Serugendo, R. Frei, J.L. Fernandez-Marques (2012)Chemically inspired rules for self-healing in self-organising assembly systems, In: International Conference on Through-life Engineering Services (TESConf) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Yu Gong, Yang Wang, Regina Frei, Bill Wang, Changping Zhao (2022)Blockchain application in circular marine plastic debris management, In: Industrial Marketing Management102pp. 164-176 Elsevier

The threat to the environment and humanity caused by marine plastic debris has aroused global attention. This research aims to explore the feasibility of applying blockchain technology (BCT) in marine plastic debris management. A case study on three pioneer recycling organizations is conducted based on secondary data. The study found that BCT can be applied to solve some of the existing challenges of marine plastic debris management. A digital token system and identity recognition mechanism based on BCT can increase the public awareness for marine plastic debris governance. The derived digital wallets and distributed ledgers can effectively replace paper documents and cash transactions in the traditional recycling chain, and minimize global impact on local economies, thus improve efficiency and safety. Also, the traceability and high transparency of blockchain and the application of smart contracts can effectively build a global recycling network. In addition, the application of BCT can greatly improve the transparency of recycling value chains, and make them more accepting of supervision from society and consumers. This research is one of the first studies on BCT in marine plastic debris management and explores worldwide pioneering companies. In practice, this study can help companies analyse the defects in their own waste disposal models and help practitioners make decisions to adopt BCT. In academia, as one of the early exploratory studies on the application of BCT to the treatment of marine plastic debris, this study provides further empirical reference on BCT based business models and recycling chains, and can guide future research in this field.

Explores the practices in African businesses and their interactions with sustainable Global Value Chains Contains a selection of conceptual discussions on sustainability in global value chains as well as empirical case studies from various African countries and diverse industries Identifies challenges and barriers to the implementation of sustainable principles in African companies.

Regina Frei, Jose Barata, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2007)A complexity theory approach to evolvable production systems, In: P. Sapaty, J. Filipe (eds.), Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Multi-Agent Robotic Systems - MARS 2007; In Conjunction with ICINCO 2007pp. 44-53 INSTICC

Evolvable Production Systems differ from Reconfigurable and Holonic Manufacturing Systems by implying ontology-based process-specific modularity at fine granularity with local intelligence and a distributed control solution based on the Multi-Agent paradigm. Understanding the dynamics of such complex production systems is not feasible with traditional engineering. For creating the manufacturing systems of the future, engineers need to dare a leap in their ways of thinking. Complexity Theory and Artificial Intelligence can be a valuable source of inspiration for manufacturing engineers. This article illustrates how ideas from these scientific areas fit the problems and open questions of manufacturing. Some concepts, as Self-Organization and Emergence, need adaptation to be applicable in production systems; others simply require the right perspective. Finally, a vision of future EPS is outlined.

Jamal El Baz, Regina Frei, Issam Laguir (2018)Reverse supply chain practices in developing countries: the case of Morocco, In: Journal of manufacturing technology management29(1)pp. 198-216 Emerald Group Publishing

Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to investigate reverse supply chain (RSC) practices and their obstacles using case studies of Moroccan companies. The authors present the main findings of case studies' analysis along with a discussion of an RSC framework for further directions of research. Design/methodology/approach - A qualitative approach was adopted and semi-structured interviews with Moroccan companies were conducted using an interview guide. Findings - The authors present an RSC model that encompasses remanufacturing, refurbishing and disposal processes. The authors believe that this model would constitute a promising framework for further research. The findings show that the successful implementation of RSC depends on many factors, but the company's attitude (proactive or conservative) is one of the most critical determinants in RSC initiatives. Furthermore, the results of the case studies indicate two types of inhibitors: external and internal. These findings confirm the results of previous research on environmental sustainability obstacles in general and RSC obstacles in particular. Research limitations/implications - This study has some limitations that provide future research opportunities. Because this study is qualitative, further statistical support is needed to justify wider generalisation of its findings. Further studies might therefore investigate RSC practices in developing countries other than Morocco to increase the external validity of the results. Practical implications - The findings can help firms to gain better understanding of their RSC and particularly the link between forward and RSCs. Consequently, companies can upgrade their business models to better control their RSC activities. Originality/value - The relevant literature about RSC practices has mainly targeted manufacturing sectors in developed countries, and few studies have been conducted on developing countries. Research on RSC practices in developing countries in general and African countries in particular is sparse. This is one of the first articles written to address this gap by investigating RSC practices in Morocco.

Regina Frei, Traian Florin Serbanuta, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2014)Self-organising assembly systems formally specified in Maude, In: Journal of ambient intelligence and humanized computing5(4)pp. 491-510 Springer Nature

This article recapitulates on the research done in self-organising assembly systems (SOAS) and presents the completed formal specifications and their simulation in Maude. SOAS are assembly systems that (1) participate in their own design by spontaneously organising themselves in the shop floor layout in response to the arrival of a product order and (2) manage themselves during production. The self-organising process for SOAS to design themselves follows the Chemical Abstract Machine (CHAM) paradigm: industrial robots self-select and self-arrange according to specific chemical rules in response to a product order with generic assembly instructions (GAP). This article presents an additional set of rules describing how the GAP is transformed into layout-specific assembly instructions, which is a kind of recipe for how the self-organising robots assemble the product.

Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Regina Frei (2010)Experience Report in Developing and Applying a Method for Self-Organisation to Agile Manufacturing, In: 2010 Fourth IEEE International Conference on Self-Adaptive and Self-Organizing Systemspp. 253-254 IEEE Computer Society (Washington)

The design and implementation of distributed, self-organising and self-adaptive systems are challenging. This article details our experience gained during the development of self-organising assembly systems, which provide solutions for user-friendly agile manufacturing systems. More specifically, we describe how both a development method for self-organising systems, called MetaSelf, and the above particular application were progressively shaped, each influencing the other.

Regina Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Traian Florin Serbanuta (2010)Ambient intelligence in self-organising assembly systems using the chemical reaction model, In: Journal of ambient intelligence and humanized computing1(3)pp. 163-184 Springer Nature

This article discusses self-organising assembly systems (SOAS), a type of assembly systems that (1) participate in their own design by spontaneously organising themselves in response to the arrival of a product order and (2) manage themselves during production. SOAS address the industry's need for agile manufacturing systems to be highly responsive to market dynamics. Manufacturing systems need to be easily and rapidly changeable, but system re-engineering/reconfiguration and especially their (re-) programming are manual, work-intensive and error-prone procedures. With SOAS, we try to facilitate this by giving the systems gradually more self-* capabilities. SOAS eases the work of the SOAS designer and engineer when designing such as system for a specific product, and supports the work of the SOAS operator when supervising the system during production. SOAS represent an application domain of ambient intelligence and humanised computing which is not frequently considered, but therefore none the less important. This article explains how an SOAS produces its own design as the result of a self-organising process following the Chemical Abstract Machine (CHAM) paradigm: industrial robots self-assemble according to specific chemical rules in response to a product order. This paper reports on SOAS in general, the specification of the chemical reactions and their simulation in Maude.

Mariachiara Puviani, Regina Frei (2013)Self-management for cloud computing, In: 2013 Science and Information Conferencepp. 940-946 The Science and Information Organization

Cloud computing is an emergent technology in the process of becoming ubiquitous. This requires strategies to deal with challenging situations. While a P2P structure is suitable under usual circumstances, other structures may be required in case of strong perturbations and disruptions. This paper describes a partial blackout scenario: the Cloud uses self-management properties to switch from a peer-to-peer structure to a temporary centralised structure, and then returns to normal. The system remains adaptive at all times, while maintaining performance under aggravated conditions. To achieve such self-management, a specific design pattern is suggested. Properties for self-adaptive and self-managing system are described, and implementation perspectives are discussed.

Regina Frei, Jos Barata, Mauro Onori (2007)Evolvable production systems context and implications, In: 2007 IEEE INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON INDUSTRIAL ELECTRONICS, PROCEEDINGS, VOLS 1-8pp. 3233-3238 IEEE

Agility, reactivity and sustainability are key to cope with today's dynamic markets, as has been broadly recognized. Depending on the source, manufacturing systems are required to be modular, hierarchical or heterarchical, distributed, flexible or reconfigurable; companies can be represented using the Bionic, Fractal and Holonic concepts. Evolvable Production Systems fulfill the majority of the requirements elaborated by the Agile and Reconfigurable approaches and take nature as a metaphor. Modularity of fine granularity and local intelligence allow truly process-specific system design. EPS provide mechanisms for fast reconfiguration at mechanical as well as control level. They apply the Multi-Agent paradigm, which is intrinsically suited for Distributed systems. Inspired by Biology, Artificial Intelligence and Complexity Theory, EPS open the doors for the production systems of the future: the aim is to implement advanced concepts such as Self-Organization, Self-Diagnose and Self-Healing. Coping with emergent behavior will be fundamental, and taking profit of emergent capabilities will open considerable potential for new solutions.

Regina Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Nuno Pereira, Jose Belo, Jose Barata (2010)Implementing Self-Organisation and Self-Management in Evolvable Assembly Systems, In: IEEE INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON INDUSTRIAL ELECTRONICS (ISIE 2010)pp. 3527-3532 IEEE

Evolvable assembly systems (EAS) are intended to tackle the challenges of agile manufacturing: high responsiveness, the ability to cope with ever-changing requirements, many variants and small lot sizes. This article discusses self-organising evolvable assembly systems (SO-EAS), which are a research direction of EAS focusing on self-organisation and self-management. SO-EAS are composed of modules with local intelligence and self-knowledge, able to self-organise to form a suitable shop-floor layout which fulfils a generic assembly plan received in input. During production, the modules self-manage while executing the assembly tasks. This article reports on the latest implementation advances, such as the integration of the agent platform Jade with the reasoning engine Jess.

Regina Frei, Lisa Jack, Steve Brown (2020)Product returns: a growing problem for business, society and environment, In: International journal of operations & production management40(10)pp. 1613-1621 Emerald Group Publishing

Purpose This article sheds light onto the increasing problem of product returns, which is exacerbated by growing e-commerce. Many retailers and academics are oblivious to the nature and scale of this challenge. Interdisciplinary research is needed to develop supporting theory, and cross-functional teams are required to implement measures addressing economic, ecological and social sustainability issues. Design/methodology/approach The initial project adopted a multi-case study approach, whereby returns processes were mapped, vulnerabilities identified and a returns cost calculator was developed. Findings Product returns processes are usually complicated, prone to internal and external fraud, inefficient and lack sustainability. They can generate considerable losses to the business, especially as returns data are often not systematically collected, monitored or reported to senior management. There are important implications for strategic and operational management, namely the need to develop a concept for Lean returns systems. Originality/value Product returns are a unique and understudied but growing field in academic research, with only few publications over the last two decades. Yet the phenomenon is causing increasing problems in business and society. Robust solutions could achieve great financial and non-financial impacts.

Regina Frei, Jose Barata, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2007)A complexity theory approach to evolvable production systems, In: P Sapaty, J Filipe (eds.), MULTI-AGENT ROBOTIC SYSTEMS, PROCEEDINGSpp. 44-53 Insticc-Inst Syst Technologies Information Control & Communication

Evolvable Production Systems differ from Reconfigurable and Holonic Manufacturing Systems by implying ontology-based process-specific modularity at fine granularity with local intelligence and a distributed control solution based on the Multi-Agent paradigm. Understanding the dynamics of such complex production systems is not feasible with traditional engineering. For creating the manufacturing systems of the future, engineers need to dare a leap in their ways of thinking. Complexity Theory and Artificial Intelligence can be a valuable source of inspiration for manufacturing engineers. This article illustrates how ideas from these scientific areas fit the problems and open questions of manufacturing. Some concepts, as Self-Organization and Emergence, need adaptation to be applicable in production systems; others simply require the right perspective. Finally, a vision of future EPS is outlined.

Regina Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Jose Barata (2008)Designing Self-Organization for Evolvable Assembly Systems, In: 2008 Second IEEE International Conference on Self-Adaptive and Self-Organizing Systemspp. 97-106 IEEE

Current solutions for industrial manufacturing assembly systems do not suit the needs of mass customization industry, which is facing low production volumes, many variants and rapidly changing conditions. This paper proposes the concept of self-organizing evolvable assembly systems, where assembly system modules and product parts to be assembled self-organize and self-adapt (among others, choose their coalition partners, their location and monitor themselves) in order to easily and quickly produce a new or reconfigured assembly system each time a new product order arrives or each time a failure or weakness arises in the current assembly system. This paper presents the design and partial implementation of such a system following an architecture for self-organizing and self-adaptive systems based on policies enforced at run-time on the basis of collected and updated metadata. As a case study, the assembly of a adhesive tape roller dispenser is considered.

Regina Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2011)Self-Organizing Assembly Systems, In: IEEE transactions on systems, man and cybernetics. Part C, Applications and reviews41(6)pp. 885-897 IEEE

This paper addresses a vision of future manufacturing systems, which are highly agile, user friendly, and increasingly based on autonomous components. Evolvable assembly systems (EASs) provide a solution for agile assembly, including a concept for reconfigurability with modularity at the mechanical as well as at the control level. It takes the multilateral relations among product, processes, and systems into account and allows the systems to evolve together with the requirements. Self-organizing assembly systems (SOASs) are a further development of EAS, allowing them to play an active role in layout design and production. This paper focuses on the self-organization mechanisms for the design of SOAS, as well as the system architecture, including agents and self-knowledge. Agentified modules participate in their own arrangement in the system layout and monitor themselves during production. Policies and metadata for self-management during production are described, and performance metrics for agility scenarios are indicated.

Mariachiara Puviani, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Regina Frei, Giacomo Cabri (2012)A Method Fragments Approach to Methodologies for Engineering Self-Organizing Systems, In: ACM transactions on autonomous and adaptive systems7(3)pp. 1-25 Assoc Computing Machinery

This article summarizes five relevant methods for developing self-organizing multiagent systems. It identifies their most relevant aspects and provides a description of each one under the form of method fragments expressed using SPEM (Software and System Process Engineering Metamodel). The use of a "metamodel" to describe fragments facilitates the comparison of the methods and their respective fragments. These fragments can be combined and be part of a more general ad hoc methodology, created according to the needs of the designer. Self-organizing traffic lights controllers and self-organizing displays are chosen as case studies to illustrate the methods and to underline which fragments are important for self-organizing systems. Finally, we illustrate how to augment PASSI2, an agent-based methodology which does not consider self-organization aspects, with some of the identified fragments for self-organization.

Regina Frei, Bruno Ferreira, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, Jose Barata (2009)An Architecture for Self-Managing Evolvable Assembly Systems, In: 2009 IEEE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON SYSTEMS, MAN AND CYBERNETICS (SMC 2009), VOLS 1-9pp. 2707-2712 IEEE

Agile manufacturing requires high responsiveness at all levels of a company, but is especially challenging on the shop-floor level. Evolvable Assembly Systems (EAS) are a solution: agentified modules can be seamlessly integrated into existing systems, or removed at any instant. EAS offer a more flexible solution to automation production, but many system design and integration tasks are still done manually. Our goal is to make EAS increasingly self-managing: 1) to easily and quickly produce a new or re-configured assembly system each time a new product order arrives or each time a failure or weakness arises in the current assembly system and 2) to maintain production also under degraded conditions. This article describes an architecture for self-managing evolvable assembly systems. It involves on-the-fly self-assembly of robotic modules, dynamic coordination of tasks and self-adaptation to production conditions, mainly self-healing and self-optimisation. The architecture exploits self-description of modules, monitored modules behaviour and dynamic policies.

Regina Frei, Sally-Ann Krzyzaniak, Lisa Jack (2019)Sustainable Reverse Supply Chains for Retail Product Returns, In: N Yakovleva, R Frei, Murthy (eds.), Greening of Industry Networks Studiespp. 159-182 Springer Nature

With online sales growing massively over the last few years, product returns have also increased significantly, and for a variety of reasons. However, most companies strongly underestimate the effort and costs necessary for dealing with these returns. The reverse supply chains and systems used are often ad-hoc and have many weaknesses; research has shown that sustainability is a topic still completely neglected in the area. This chapter contributes to identifying vulnerabilities, explains best practice, suggests ways to achieve further improvement and points out where further investigation is required. The findings are based on a comprehensive study involving 100 retailers' online returns policies; a review of other existing studies; four in-depth case studies with major UK retailers, including over 25 interviews, observations and site visits; and structured interviews with another 17 retailers in the UK and Europe. Feedback was sought from retail industry consortia.

Regina Frei, Luis Ribeiro, Jose Barata, Daniel Semere (2007)Evolvable assembly systems: Towards user friendly manufacturing, In: 2007 IEEE INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ASSEMBLY AND MANUFACTURINGpp. 288-293 IEEE

Besides coping with the highly dynamic product and production system life cycles with ever-changing requirements, modern assembly systems also need to be userfriendly. Their modularity at fine granularity-level combined with local intelligence and a distributed control approach allows the systems to evolve together with the requirements but their complexity would soon not be manageable from outside any more if user-friendliness was not considered a major criterion. Systems must be made to serve their users. Thanks to Self-* capabilities, systems can gain an increasingly high degree of autonomy. Diagnosis plays a particularly important role in this process.

R Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2011)Advances in complexity engineering, In: International journal of bio-inspired computation3(4)pp. 199-212 Inderscience Publishers Ltd

Complexity science has seen increasing interest in the recent years. Many engineers have discovered that traditional methods come to their limits when coping with complex adaptive systems or autonomous agents. To find alternatives, complexity science can be applied to engineering, resulting in a quickly growing field, referred to as complexity engineering. Most current efforts come either from scientists who are interested in bio-inspired methods and working in computer science or mobile robots, or they come from the area of systems engineering. This article is the second part of a set of two articles on this topic; the first one reviewed the definitions of the most important concepts such as emergence and self-organisation from an engineer’s perspective, and analysed different types of nature-inspired technology. This article provides a survey of the currently existing approaches to complexity engineering. In the end, challenges ahead are indicated.

Regina Frei, Jose Barata (2008)Manufacturing systems of the future: A multi-disciplinary approach, In: A Azevedo (eds.), INNOVATION IN MANUFACTURING NETWORKS266pp. 239-244 Springer Nature

Successful manufacturing systems for the future have to be based on know-how originating from more than the traditional manufacturing domains. Approaches such as Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems, the Agile Assembly Architecture and Holonic Manufacturing Systems go into the right direction; combined with approaches known from Mobile Robotics, Collective Artificial Intelligence and Complexity Science, there is considerable potential for creative solutions to the problems of low volume - high change productions. Systems must be enabled to self-organize, take profit of emergence and become more autonomous. More due to human factors than due to technical reasons, system autonomy and emergence belong to industry's worst nightmares. It is therefore crucial to address this fear while at the same time working on reliable methods and tools.

Mariachiara Puviani, Giovanna Serugendo, Regina Frei, Giacomo Cabri (2009)Methodologies for Self-Organising Systems, In: Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Joint Conference on Web Intelligence and Intelligent Agent Technology2pp. 66-69 IEEE Computer Society

We define 'SPEM fragments' of five methods for developing self-organising multi-agent systems. Self-organising traffic lights controllers provide an application scenario.

Regina Frei, James Whitacre (2012)Degeneracy and networked buffering: principles for supporting emergent evolvability in agile manufacturing systems, In: Natural computing11(3)pp. 417-430 Springer Nature

This article introduces new principles for improving upon the design and implementation of agile manufacturing and assembly systems. It focuses particularly on challenges that arise when dealing with novel conditions and the associated requirements of system evolvability, e.g. seamless reconfigurability to cope with changing production orders, robustness to failures and disturbances, and modifiable user-centric interfaces. Because novelty in manufacturing or the marketplace is only predictable to a limited degree, the flexible mechanisms that will permit a system to adequately respond to novelty cannot be entirely pre-specified. As a solution to this challenge, we propose how evolvability can become a pervasive property of the assembly system that, while constrained by the system's historical development and domain-specific requirements, can emerge and re-emerge without foresight or planning. We first describe an important mechanism by which biological systems can cope with uncertainty through properties described as degeneracy and networked buffering. We discuss what degeneracy means, how it supports a system facing unexpected challenges, and we review evidence from simulations using evolutionary algorithms that support some of our conjectures in models with similarities to several assembly system contexts. Finally, we discuss potential design strategies for encouraging emergent changeability in assembly systems. We also discuss practical challenges to the realization of these concepts within a systems engineering context, especially issues related to system transparency, design costs, and efficiency. We discuss how some of these difficulties can be overcome while also elaborating on those factors that are likely to limit the applicability of these principles.

Mauro Onori, José Barata, Regina Frei (2006)Evolvable Assembly Systems Basic Principles, In: Information Technology For Balanced Manufacturing Systemspp. 317-328 Springer US

This paper addresses the underlying principles of Evolvable Assembly Systems. This paradigm was recently proposed as an answer to the requirements faced by assembly companies in the current world of business and technological changes. The basis for this new approach lies in a multi-disciplinary study of the needs and requirements, and shifts the technological focus from complex, flexible, multi-purpose systems to simpler, process-oriented, dedicated swarms of machine modules.

R. Frei, J. Barata (2010)Distributed systems - from natural to engineered: three phases of inspiration by nature, In: International journal of bio-inspired computation2(3-4)pp. 258-270 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd

So far, most nature-inspired applications concern single components and non-distributed systems. However, distributed adaptive complex systems in nature also exhibit many properties which could be highly useful in engineered systems. The most important are clarified in this article, to contribute to a framework of nature-inspired engineering methods. This article proposes a three-phase model which includes 1 understanding natural systems 2 lab experimentation 3 industrial engineering. There are many examples of the transition from 1 to 2, but only few examples of the transition from phase 2 towards 3. Especially in the manufacturing world, this link is missing. Moreover, this article illustrates how concepts from nature can be useful for engineering. Particular emphasis is given to emergence, self-organisation and other self-* properties. These powerful concepts are crucial enablers for creating the 'invisible hand', which is one of the big challenges for the future.

James Dockree, Qian Wang, Regina Frei (2021)Error chain analysis-an effective method for tighter manufacturing process control, In: Production planning & control32(8)pp. 641-651 Taylor & Francis

One of aims of manufacturing quality control is to ensure that products are made free from defects according to specifications without unnecessarily increasing time and cost of production. Over-control of a process can be as detrimental to a manufacturer as under-control. It is common in industry that operators use their personal knowhow and intuition to decide where to implement process verification, and where to tighten it when processes are not meeting specifications. This is partially because there is little scientific guidance that can assist operators in making a decision on levels of quality control of a process at varying stages. To remedy this, a new method for manufacturing quality control, namely Error Chain Analysis (ECA), is introduced and its application is illustrated in this article. ECA is capable of statistically analysing the quality of a multi-stage manufacturing process based on existing control measures, and it enables to indicate where added or tighter control may need to be effectively implemented. For testing its applicability, ECA was built into a user-friendly tool that was subsequently used to analyse data gathered from a large manufacturing company in the UK.

R Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2011)Concepts in complexity engineering, In: International journal of bio-inspired computation3(2)pp. 123-139 Inderscience Publishers Ltd

Complexity science has seen increasing interest in the recent years. Many engineers have discovered that traditional methods come to their limits when coping with complex adaptive systems or autonomous agents. To find alternatives, complexity science can be applied to engineering, resulting in a quickly growing field, referred to as complexity engineering. Most current efforts come either from scientists who are interested in bio-inspired methods and working in computer science or mobile robots, or they come from the area of systems engineering. This article reviews the definitions of the most important concepts such as emergence and self-organisation from an engineer’s perspective, and analyses different types of nature-inspired technology. This is the first part of a set of two-articles on this topic; the second one provides a survey of currently existing approaches to complexity engineering, identifies challenges and gives directions for further research.

Regina Frei, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2012)The future of complexity engineering, In: Open Engineering (Warsaw)2(2)pp. 164-188 Walter de Gruyter

Complexity Engineering encompasses a set of approaches to engineering systems which are typically composed of various interacting entities often exhibiting self-* behaviours and emergence. The engineer or designer uses methods that benefit from the findings of complexity science and often considerably differ from the classical engineering approach of "divide and conquer". This article provides an overview on some very interdisciplinary and innovative research areas and projects in the field of Complexity Engineering, including synthetic biology, chemistry, artificial life, self-healing materials and others. It then classifies the presented work according to five types of nature-inspired technology, namely: (1) using technology to understand nature, (2) nature-inspiration for technology, (3) using technology on natural systems, (4) using biotechnology methods in software engineering, and (5) using technology to model nature. Finally, future trends in Complexity Engineering are indicated and related risks are discussed.

Regina Frei, Richard McWilliam, Benjamin Derrick, Alan Purvis, Asutosh Tiwari, Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo (2013)Self-healing and self-repairing technologies, In: International journal of advanced manufacturing technology69pp. 1033-1061 Springer Nature

This article reviews the existing work in self-healing and self-repairing technologies, including work in software engineering, materials, mechanics, electronics, MEMS, self-reconfigurable robotics, and others. It suggests a terminology and taxonomy for self-healing and self-repair, and discusses the various related types of other self-* properties. The mechanisms and methods leading to self-healing are reviewed, and common elements across disciplines are identified.