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Home >Industry 4.0: Revolution or evolution?

Industry 4.0: Revolution or evolution?

30 August 2017

While many in the industrial sector continue to speculate over whether Industry 4.0 represents revolution or evolution, Festo is already undertaking ever-growing digitalisation with both mindsets, as Charlotte Stonestreet reports

As the concept of Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, takes hold not just in the industrial sector, but right across the supply chain and commerce globally, the question of how almost universal digitalisation will influence almost every facet of life is one that is being considered more and more.

When it comes to the industrial sector, according to Festo’s Dr Ansgar Kriwet, one of the main challenges is whether to approach this disruptive technology in a step-by-step manner, or to make a huge leap forward. At Festo, this question has already been on the agenda for several years, and the conclusion drawn is that both elements are needed - a hybrid strategy with elements of both evolution and revolution.

The reason behind this is, says Dr Kriwet, that Festo’s markets have two elements: On one hand is the mass market, which is becoming less and less separated by boarders, language and different stages of information. This market is growing in competiveness and becoming more demanding as a whole, something Dr Kriwet, says can be addressed by systematically improving the way business is done, in other words undergoing evolutionary change.

On the other hand the market is becoming more individualised. This trend could be seen emerging twenty years ago in the automotive sector, with a growing number of customers specifying a particular engine coupled with individual interior options. Today is is possible, for example, to buy running shoes that are unique to the individual. This growing demand for individualisation can only be met, asserts Dr Kriwet, with a revolutionary change.

When it comes to products, Dr Kriwet describes Festo as providing the ‘things’ in the Internet of Things, or in this case, the Industrial Internet of Things. In fact, he observes, wherever there is industrial production of goods, the chances are that there is “a little bit of Festo” inside the process. In a similar way to how Festo approaches its markets, the company broadly divides its products into those where ‘evolution’ has a role to play and those where ‘revolution’ is a more appropriate model to apply.

Volume market

In the volume market, where products are becoming more competitive and reaching higher standards, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate simply on the technical features. Here, says Dr Kriwet, Festo is focussing on what he describes as convenience factors; competitive pricing and fast delivery.

In contrast, Festo’s development of new products with enhanced capabilities and intelligence will fully embrace possibilities of differentiation and innovation and that have, says Dr Kriwet, always been the hallmark of Festo. And this is where the revolution concept will be more prevalent.

The facility is optimised to cope with both fully automated high volume product and highly flexible, small batch production

In an example of evolution, standardisation and high volumes for its standard products mean that Festo is able to implement increased levels of automation in its factories. Dr Kriwet highlights an automatic assembly machine for one of Festo’s new valve families that that company has invested in, at its Technology Plant in Scharnhausen in Germany. Thanks to its modular design, the facility is optimised to cope with both fully automated high volume product and highly flexible, small batch production. One of the main messages from Festo here is that automation, if applied in the right way, allows even high cost countries like Germany to be competitive when it comes to industrial production.

Dr Kriwet does, however, make it clear that Festo is not advocating factories empty of people and points to many examples in company facilities where people and robots are working in a collaborative way. In order to achieve this Festo is investing heavily in the education of it workforce, and Dr Kriwet believes that the worker of tomorrow will need to have a higher skill set, and generally be more educated than the worker of today.

Integrated training

To this end, Sharnhousen plant also features a ‘learning factory’, where an area is of one of the production floors is dedicated to learning. Using this facility, Festo advocates an approach to training that is essentially ‘little and often’ as opposed to offsite training over a number of days. In this way, says Dr Kriwet, different work groups can visit the learning factory for as little as twenty minutes to receive retraining or prepare for a change of process. As a result, in the future training will be much more integrated into the work process, and indeed the production floor.

While many recent developments from Festo have come about from close collaboration with customers, when it comes to revolutionary technology change, Dr Kriwet says relying on the market to point development in the right direction is not going to work, because more often than not, the market simply does not know what the right direction is. Recognising that as a potential stumbling block, Festo looks to other areas for inspiration, in particular bionics, which has long been a specialism of the company.

Collaboration and communication are central to Festo’s approach to the ‘revolutionary’ side of its product development

While looking at nature has tradtionally proved fruitful for the company in terms of inspiring mechanical solutions, Dr Kriwet also points to out that there is much to be learnt regarding collaboration and communication - both vital considerations when it comes to digitalisation - citing in particular the way in which all fish in a shoal will change direction at the same time seemingly without visible communication. In fact, collaboration and communication are central to Festo’s approach to the ‘revolutionary’ side of its product development, resulting in new innovation that builds bridges between the cyber and the physical, joining areas of technology that were in the past disparate.

In particular, the company has been working on creating a digital representation for its products, a so called ‘digital twin’, says Dr Kriwet, that enables collection of data on the operation of a machine that can give insight into the unit’s performance and also make it visible to a higher level control and communications system.

Motion terminal VTEM

This year marks the first occasion that Festo has launched a product that has, from its very conception, been designed with the intention of merging the digital and material worlds. The Festo Motion Terminal VTEM is intended as a ‘control centre’ for automation with pneumatics in the Industry 4.0 world. Addressing both the needs of mass markets and increased demand for individualisation, the Festo Motion Terminal is highly adaptive and flexible. In fact, according to Festo the fusion of mechanics, electronics and software featured will transform a pneumatic product into a true Industry 4.0 component, and enable flexible production.

Changes in pneumatic functions and adaptations to new formats are controlled via apps by changing parameters. The integrated intelligent sensors for control, diagnostics and self-learning tasks will eliminate the need for additional components.

And this is just the beginning. Developments in the digital age are and will continue to drive change asserts Dr Kriwet, enabling Festo to advance productivity with its customers even further, something he sees as a being a great challenge, but also an even greater opportunity.

Key Points

  • In its business strategy Festo recognises two types of market: mass markets and growing demand for individualisation
  • Appropriately applied automation can allow even high cost countries like Germany to be competitive when it comes to industrial production
  • New products with enhanced capabilities and intelligence will fully embrace possibilities of differentiation and innovation