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The first steps into Industry 4.0

26 August 2016

As the concept of smart factories continues to develop, Henry Claussnitzer, group market development manager for Factory Automation, Parker Hannifin, looks at the associated technologies and how they are being implemented

In generic terms, Industry 4.0 embraces a collection of technologies and concepts to create ‘smart factories’, where machines in the production process are able to communicate with each other, both internally and externally via the cloud .Put simply, connected devices in factories, offices and on the person will become smart networked nodes, interconnected via a standardised network without any hierarchy.

Better process optimisation, increased productivity, safety, reliability and flexibility, will all be highly valued outcomes from successful implementations of Industry 4.0. The revolution will result in a change in the required skill sets for shop floor workers and maintenance staff and it will increase the amounts of important predictive maintenance carried out and its accuracy. This in-turn will yield a significant payback in the form of minimised costly downtime as processes and systems become more predictable and reliable.

Blurred lines

Companies like Parker Hannifin are adding sensing, data capture and intelligence not just to overall systems and production lines, but also to individual motion control and automation devices and products within those systems whether they be electromechanical, pneumatic or hydraulic. This addition of electronic hardware and software to facilitate Industry 4.0, is blurring the dividing lines between electronics, hydraulics, pneumatics and Emech technologies for motion control in industrial production applications.

All data gathered during production could be used to support the digital model

With all manufacturing data stored digitally in the cloud, today’s production management tools, such as job lists and production schedules, could be confined to the history books. All data gathered during production could be used to support the digital model. Using an example such as a machining cell, this would include parameters such as cutting speed, feed rate, spindle speed, depth of cut, cycle time, and so on. Data like this could be useful in aiding future process improvements. Conceivably, it would also simplify last minute design iterations, even moments before the start button is pressed, by modifying the digital model in the cloud.

In Industry 4.0, connected machines or facilities can also be viewed as ‘cyber-physical’, which means offering tight integration between a system's computational and physical elements, with this also implying potentially autonomous decision-making.

Parker Hannifin’s Interact Xpress provides a good example of how communication and interconnectivity via the Internet is already being implemented effectively for human machine interface (HMI) design, data sharing / handling and process support. Although not reaching the level of facilitating fully autonomous, intelligent or ‘learning’ production processes which represent Industry 4.0’s utopia, systems such as Interact Xpress are enabling distributed HMI software, remote support and applications sharing via the Internet and other IP networks. This type of capability allows OEMs to implement upgrades and process changes to any global location quickly and effortlessly; it effectively represents the first tangible steps into Industry 4.0.

Smart products

In addition to all this, actual manufactured products will become ‘smart’, featuring embedded systems or intelligence that offers lifecycle monitoring and platforms for customer feedback. This is achievable because the digital model would exist in parallel with its physical counterpart, tracking its service life and recording breakdowns, along with additional factors such as maintenance, end-of-life recycling and even disposal. From the raw material batch number to the plant where it was recycled, all data would be retrievable. To many, this shift into a virtual world may sound daunting, but probably no more so than the three previous industrial revolutions, although it has to be said that the degree of complexity is somewhat elevated with Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 promises to fine-tune the manufacturing process

Of course, for any new ‘shift’ on this scale, there has to be tangible benefits for those involved in making it happen. Industry 4.0 promises to fine-tune the manufacturing process, increase efficiency and flexibility, shorten time-to-market, and enable the mass production of customised parts. If this can be achieved, it will clearly be of enormous benefits to all economies.

In a highly competitive manufacturing landscape, particularly in North America and Western Europe, innovation via Industry 4.0 will prove key to survival. Some governments, such as those in the US, Germany and China, have already grasped the nettle, launching advanced manufacturing initiatives to help drive the necessary research and investment that will lead to a connected industry.

There is no doubting the size of the task ahead. Industry 4.0 is all-encompassing, and as a strategy it is influenced not just by the so-called ‘internet of things’ (network of connected physical objects), but by factors such as Moore’s Law, an observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years, indicating the rapid advancement of computing power. Sensor technology is another influence, as is big data analytics, namely the process of examining large data sets containing a variety of data types to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information.

To give a specific production example, at present there exists various tools to provide OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) information to factory management in order to highlight the root cause of problems and possible faults in the system. In contrast, in an Industry 4.0 factory, as well as condition monitoring and fault diagnosis, components and systems would be able to gain self-awareness and self-predictability, thus providing management with more insight on the status of the factory. Furthermore, peer-to-peer comparison and fusion of health information from various components will provide a precise health prediction in component and system levels, and enforce factory management to trigger required maintenance at the best possible time to achieve near-zero downtime.

Increasing competitiveness

In short, the purpose of Industry 4.0 is to make manufacturing more flexible, efficient and sustainable through communication and intelligence, therefore increasing competitiveness. It will see the product to be manufactured contain all the necessary information on its production requirements, hence facilitating mass customisation. Here, the required automation technology is improved by the introduction of methods of self-optimisation, self-configuration, self-diagnosis, cognition and intelligent support of workers in their increasingly complex work. What’s more, there will exist self-organised, integrated production facilities created with consideration to the entire value chain, while flexible production decisions will be taken based on up-to-the-second situation data. The path to Industry 4.0 demands an integrated, holistic product planning and production process that will enhance productivity, efficiency and flexibility, and at its core will be a common database and integrated tool chain throughout the entire lifecycle, for both products and production.

The path to Industry 4.0 demands an integrated, holistic product planning and production process

Of course, to achieve all this, manufacturers will have to adopt more than capable machines and systems, but expand the role of IT in their products. Changes will likely include a greater modularisation of functionality with deployments in the cloud and on embedded devices.

The growing interconnectivity of machines, products, parts, and humans will shape the digital factory of the future as industry moves from today’s communication-driven automation to tomorrow’s optimisation of the entire production process by innovative software systems, through to the ultimate goal of self-optimising cyber-physical systems on the basis of analysing virtual models of actual scenarios.

From the perspective of motor and drive technologies and controls, such as those offered by Parker, the transition can be seen from yesterday’s versatile product portfolio, comprising motors, gearboxes, converter and couplings, to today’s completely integrated world of modern Automation, and onwards to the seamless integration of all components with distributed intelligence.

Key Points

  • Successful implementations of Industry 4.0 aims to achieve better process optimisation, increased productivity, safety, reliability and flexibility
  • Communication and interconnectivity via the Internet is already being implemented effectively for human machine interface (HMI) design
  • Actual manufactured products will become ‘smart’, featuring embedded systems or intelligence offering monitoring and platforms for feedback