Meeting the requirements of Industry 4.0

Achieving smarter factories and reaching the goals set by the Industry 4.0 initiative can be helped by what CC-Link IE has to offer, as Control Engineering Europe editor-in-chief Suzanne Gill explains.


Achieving smarter factories and reaching the goals set by the Industry 4.0 initiative can be helped by what CC-Link IE has to offer, as Control Engineering Europe editor-in-chief Suzanne Gill explains. Courtesy: Control Engineering EuropeSince it was first discussed at Hannover Messe in 2011, Industry 4.0 has become something with which all progressive companies, those considered end-users and suppliers, have sought to align themselves.

The Industry 4.0 term originates from a high-tech strategy implemented by the German government that promotes the computerization of the manufacturing industry. It is not just about machines communicating with each other—that has been happening for years with machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Nor is it about your refrigerator being able to order milk for you (although that may become part of it in the future). Neither is it just about factories running themselves: "lights out" manufacturing has been a topic for discussion since the 1980s.

Instead, it is a combination of "cyber-physical" systems (computational elements merged into, and controlling, physical systems) with the industrial subset of the Internet of Things (IoT), the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) where intelligent industrial products, processes, and services communicate with each other and with people over a global network.

But why is Industry 4.0 different than what we have been talking about in the past? John Browett, general manager at the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) Europe, believes that the key difference with Industry 4.0 is the Ethernet and, in turn, Internet-based technologies that provide the connectivity for everything to communicate with everything else. "This has been approached in the past, but usually these attempts have stopped short somewhere, when incompatibility divides a project into islands or silos due to the networks and technologies being used."

Making Industry 4.0 a reality

As Industry 4.0 becomes reality, for the first time it will be possible to connect almost any device (assuming it has an Ethernet port) with almost any other, regardless of where it is or what it is. For manufacturing, this means many of the science fiction scenarios that have been discussed for so many years may finally become reality.

A good analogy would be the car, which is a network on wheels—multiple cyber physical parts (engine, transmission, dashboard, indicators, etc.) all controlled by software, communicating and cooperating with each other. In the same way that automotive manufacturers are considering the ideas of cars all over a city cooperating (think IoT) to reduce congestion and pollution, Industry 4.0 will allow production machines to provide more transparency and cooperate with each other to a much higher degree. This may eventually lead to intelligent factories capable of autonomous production changeovers, reassignment of production equipment, and perhaps even scaling their capacity as demand increases. By extension, this will also take in the Internet and collaboration with vendors and customers to a greater degree than is currently possible.

Although some of this may still be a ways off, what is clear is that none of this will happen without a network that is able to carry the information between all the places where it is needed, in real time. Ethernet is the foundation for this infrastructure, and being able to deliver the necessary performance will require technology with better capabilities than is common today. This is where the CLPA and its member companies believes that CC-Link IE can help.

The industrial network market has identified that the need is for connectivity to industrial Ethernet and traditional fieldbuses. "Today, we estimate that 34% of the global networking market is Ethernet-based while 66% use more traditional fieldbuses," said Christian Bergdahl, product marketing manager at HMS Industrial Networks. "Implementation of Industrial Ethernet is now growing faster than that of fieldbuses, even at the device level, and CC-Link IE is one of the emerging technologies in this area, especially for the Asian market."

Knut Dettmer, marketing manager at Renesas Electronics Europe, added: "As industrial automation companies strive to address Industry 4.0 needs, it has become evident that network throughput in real-time automation networks is increasing, due to the projected increase in M2M communication in reconfigurable cyber-physical-system setups. Being the only relevant industrial Ethernet standard with Gigabit Ethernet technology already in place, CC-Link IE is already well set to address these needs today."

One of the many goals and visions of Industry 4.0 is the so-called "smart factory," which will be fast, flexible, and efficient. "To achieve this goal, devices in the plant need to be much more intelligent than they have been in the past," explained Stephan Langer, networking product manager at CLPA board member Balluff. "We are seeing increasing volumes of data within the lowest communication levels of the production process. Devices have to be able to generate the necessary information and seamless communication between devices, and the Internet is required. We also need the infrastructure for seamless transportation of the entire data over all communication levels."

Those using automation are moving away from classic fieldbus systems toward Ethernet-based communication systems, Balluff suggested. "One reason for this is speed and data volume," said Langer. "To achieve the Industry 4.0 vision we need more high-performance networks," such as the Gigabit technology of CC-Link IE. "We are convinced that it is perfectly placed to support the requirements of Industry 4.0 and can make the vision real." To this end, the company is currently developing CC-Link IE I/O-modules, which are planned for release late in 2015.

Proactive decision-making

"From the factory floor to the MES [manufacturing execution system] level, manufacturers need real-time accessible data to support proactive, rather than reactive, decision-making when it comes to production scheduling, diagnostics, and maintenance. Plant floor equipment, devices, and sensors are producing more and more data to be gathered, analyzed, and stored," said Damien Leterrier, director of industrial communications at CLPA board member Molex.

"These enormous quantities of data need to be moved quickly from the plant floor to operations managers and executive offices, and it is the speed of transmission possible with CC-Link IE's gigabit Ethernet that makes it advantageous in helping to meet the demands of this data deluge.

"However, designing a smart-network configuration requires collaboration between information technology and manufacturing," continued Leterrier. Leterrier offered an example of how equipment is becoming more intelligent, which can make the job easier: "Machines and software tools are now able to predict many of the potential problems that can lead to failure, and are able to trigger preventive maintenance processes to minimize costly downtime or equipment damage. Technologies already exist within CC-Link IE-such as the seamless message protocol (SLMP) that makes it easier to link and access equipment without the need for hardware changes—while critical processes still operate on a real-time gigabit Ethernet backbone."

Rick Roszkowski, senior director of marketing at CLPA board member Cognex, also believes that CC-Link IE is a good fit with Industry 4.0. He said: "It provides a high-performance, deterministic interface solution from the enterprise level right down to the device level. I believe it is critical to have a protocol that can do this to leverage the benefits of a digitized enterprise. In terms of material flow, it is vital to have a communication protocol that can bridge the gap from the device level all the way up to the enterprise system.

"CC-Link IE allows the device level and the enterprise to effectively share a common protocol-with different physical characteristics as to how fast it communicates in the field-but architecturally with common wiring, cabling, connectors, and programming interface across the enterprise."

Greg Hookings, senior manager of strategic business development at CLPA board member Mitsubishi Electric, said: "Industry 4.0 incorporates a number of manufacturing trends such as IIoT, big data, cyber security, and seamless communication. The result of these technologies coming together is something that we recognize today as the smart factory. CC-Link IE introduces a number of primary capabilities that can help achieve this smart-factory vision. These include high-level data speed transmission and simplified data-handling; standardization on Ethernet-based technologies; interfacing with legacy CC-Link fieldbus technologies; extensive connectivity between Mitsubishi Electric control devices and other vendors; and, finally, seamless communication between the enterprise and the shop floor.

- Suzanne Gill is editor of Control Engineering Europe; edited by Joy Chang, digital project manager, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Industry 4.0 combines cyber physical systems, IoT, and IIoT.
  • Intelligent industrial products, processes, and services communicate with each other and with people over a global network.

Consider this

What are your limiting factors for achieving goals in the Industry 4.0 and IIoT frameworks? Would faster, more easily connected Ethernet communications help?

ONLINE extra

See additional stories about Industry 4.0 linked below.

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