Connect the potential of Industry 4.0 with real manufacturing

Cover story: A new manufacturing line can produce one product and up to 25 variants, with a 10% increase in productivity and a 30% decrease in inventory by using Industry 4.0 technologies. See the five qualities Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices need to create the Industry 4.0 manufacturing environment.

By Allen Tubbs June 5, 2015

One of the most dominant topics across the automation and manufacturing industry landscape right now is Industry 4.0, with many buzzwords, strategic ideas, concepts, and approaches being aired. Even so, manufacturers must still focus on actual production that generates strong returns on investment (ROI). So how can machine builders and controls engineers translate Industry 4.0 concepts into practical technologies for deployment on the factory floor? Industry 4.0 technologies can improve a manufacturer’s flexibility and speed, enabling more individualized products, efficient and scalable production, and a high variance in production control. This is part of the June Control Engineering cover story on Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things to help make smarter factories.

Some questions and answers about Industry 4.0 follow.

Q: How does your company define "Industry 4.0," and what are the areas of focus?

A: We see Industry 4.0 as the rapid transformation of industry, where the virtual world of information technology (IT), the physical world of machines, and the Internet have become one. It centers on the integration of all areas of industry made possible by IT.

The proliferation of machine-to-machine communication and the vastly improved intelligence in those machines will lead to more automated processes, self-monitoring, and results in real time. Open web-based platforms will create the foundation for keeping companies competitive and responsive, creating new opportunities.

New device-to-device connections [will] enable horizontal control and communication on the plant floor. We are also working with other divisions to integrate with their vertical control solutions to drive further innovation.

Q: How will this transformation improve a manufacturer’s success?

A: The goal is to deploy technologies that can make a dramatic difference in the way manufacturers operate. Industry 4.0 technologies should improve a manufacturer’s flexibility and speed, enabling more individualized products, efficient and scalable production, and a high variance in production control.

It should also enable small-scale production of single lots alongside mass production, as well as optimized processes and inventory stocks through real-time information transparency and high-production availability. To that end, we’re focused on helping original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and equipment builders make their machines both more connected and more autonomous.

Q: What is guiding these development efforts?

A: When consumers use the resources on the Internet-for example, smartphone apps that give us GPS directions as well as locations of the nearest gas station and personal restaurant preferences-that information is being processed in the cloud and is custom-tailored, user by user, to satisfy very specific needs. But much of the individual processing is handled locally by the device or app.

The same dynamic is becoming a reality on the shop floor. Our focus is on the machines, the automation technology that goes into them, and the value-added industrial networks that will knit them together.

Manufactured products are also becoming more intelligent and "aware" of their own history, their current state, their target state, and various options for attaining that state. They become linked with the manufacturer’s business processes, transforming them from passive objects into active ones.

We want to enable machines and manufactured products to interact together inside the Industry 4.0 factory. Machines will be able to determine whether a fault is present and, using independent calculations, simultaneously determine when maintenance is required. This new machine-product interaction will make production and logistics more flexible, since information will no longer need to be processed by one central unit.

Q: What are some key factors machine builders should consider for Industry 4.0?

A: Five qualities for devices designed around the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) should work together to bring about the Industry 4.0 "manufacturing environment" described: 1) decentralized intelligence, 2) rapid connectivity, 3) open standards and systems, 4) real-time integration, and 5) autonomous behavior.

1. Decentralized intelligence: The first is decentralized intelligence, also called distributed intelligence, where intelligent drive and control technologies are designed to network with other devices with decentralized autonomy—putting as much intelligence and control capability as possible within the machine, or even the individual drive axis, rather than handling all activity and control from one central processing unit (CPU).

The ability to process data at the machine level, and deciding what to do with it, reflects our belief that a machine can be equipped to do something with the process data and improve the process on its own-adjust throughput, use energy more efficiently, and so forth-rather than depending on the "cloud" to handle all these tasks.

The machines are still connected, still communicating to higher line-level, plant-level, and enterprise-level networks, but they have the capacity and systems to make event-specific or product-specific adjustments in real time.

We have been laying the groundwork for this Industry 4.0 capability for some time: Distributed, drive-based controls are an automation architecture we have been perfecting for several years. Technology such as drive-integrated servo motors and cabinet-free drive systems, which place drive components and motion logic sequencing at individual axis, reflect this architecture. Even with hydraulics, the combination of hydraulic actuators with integrated digital control electronics allow control functions to be shifted to local software, where intelligent control algorithms developed specifically for hydraulic requirements are already in place. All the user has to do is define the motion parameters.

2. Rapid connectivity: Systems that facilitate instant vertical or horizontal connectivity to allow data to flow freely across the enterprise structure need continual investment and improvement. Leveraging all the intelligence and information available on an Industry 4.0 factory floor could overwhelm networks, so this is really a network design challenge: How can we improve both the physical and software capabilities of our automation systems to make this design process simpler, less time consuming and more open?

We’re trying to streamline how the communication paths-both vertically, to central production servers, and horizontally between production nodes and machines-are created and implemented. For example, we’re determining what fieldbus capabilities should be used; we’re looking at whether the production platform support standards such as OPC UA (from the OPC Foundation); and we’re determining how much effort will be needed to write drivers to translate machine data for use in the rest of the plant.

These and other communications issues currently take up a substantial amount of time and cost in creating automation solutions, so eliminating barriers between various supplier systems and taking a more open approach to communications and controls platforms are more important than ever in the Industry 4.0 era.

3. Open standards and systems: There needs to be a focus on expanding how "open" systems are, both in terms of support for emerging communications and software standards and in how open individual components are to make Industry 4.0 a reality.

The use of open standards allows the more flexible integration of software-based solutions-with the possibility to migrate new technologies into existing automation structures. Open control and engineering software is a significant step in that direction to bridge the gap between automation and IT software programming. An open controller kernel enables the creation of automation applications using common high-level IT languages, such as Java and C++.

In Industry 4.0, the operation of a machine tool or a packaging machine should allow for easy connections with smart devices such as phones or tablets. Software is available to help speed the design and commissioning of automation systems with the direct connection of the controller to 3-D modeling software. A motion controller, for example, can send commands and receive feedback from the model itself, allowing the functionality of the machine to be optimized with motion control in the mechanical design phase. This allows testing and programming of a machine before commissioning and replacing expensive and time-consuming physical prototypes. These virtual machines can have all their functionality tested and refined before any parts are ordered to build the machine.

4. Real-time context integration: In Industry 4.0 factories, it will be possible to draw on real-time machine and plant performance data to change the way automation systems and production processes are managed. Instead of capturing and analyzing several months’ worth of data on throughput rates, machine downtime, or energy consumption, Industry 4.0-enabled platforms will integrate that type of data into routine plant management reporting. This will equip manufacturers, and even the machines themselves, with detailed information they can use to execute the rapid process and production changes necessary to fulfill the vision of profitably making products for specific customer needs.

5. Autonomous behavior: This is one aspect of Industry 4.0 where the company has implemented real-world initiatives to make our production more connected and demand-driven. Technology is helping the production line to become autonomous. The goal is to have workstations and modules that can adapt as needed to individual customer or product needs.

At a manufacturing facility for hydraulic valves, a new adaptive assembly line uses a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip on each work piece. Nine intelligent stations on the line recognize how the finished product has to be assembled and which tool settings and operational steps are necessary. Each associate carries a Bluetooth tag that stores critical information and automatically transmits it to the assembly station. The assembly stations adjust themselves ergonomically to individual associates and display instructions in the appropriate font size and language on the workstation monitor. Information about the assembly steps is displayed with a matching level of detail depending on the product and the skill level of the associate.

The line can produce hydraulic valves with a lot size of one if needed, and the line can manufacture 25 product variants without the need for human intervention. Set-up times or excessive stocking are not necessary. We achieved a 10% increase in productivity and a 30% decrease in inventory.

Q: Is the move toward Industry 4.0 revolutionary or evolutionary?

A: It’s both—certainly the impact will be as great as previous industrial revolutions. But it is an evolution, because it’s about moving manufacturing forward, day by day.

It’s not necessary to focus only on greenfield sites to start Industry 4.0 initiatives or to rearrange the complete production environment. The goal is to help machine builders and manufacturers implement Industry 4.0 features in the existing production environment and enable them take advantage of technologies like already deployed software platforms. And factories already are doing so with available drive and control products.

With Industry 4.0, we will also see a beneficial evolution of the role of people in the manufacturing environment, with workers making judgments and applying higher-level skills and expertise in new ways.

It won’t come all at once—and it won’t require massive investments and complete overhauling of factory management and production processes. Much of the technology for Industry 4.0 is already in place, and through the smart use of pilot projects and step-by-step iterative changes in manufacturing platforms and operations, we can determine the best ways to make Industry 4.0 deliver on the promise it offers.

– Allen Tubbs is product manager, electric drives and controls, Bosch Rexroth Corp.; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Industry 4.0 technologies are in use today, increasing productivity by 10% and decreasing inventory.
  • These tools can improve a manufacturer’s flexibility and speed, enabling more individualized products, efficient and scalable production, and a high variance in production control.

Consider this

What impact on the bottom line would a 10% productivity increase mean for you or your customers?

ONLINE extra

See "Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 webcast: Overview and practical advice for today."

Click here for more information from the Industry 4.0 and IIoT June Control Engineering cover story.

Author Bio: Allen Tubbs, Bosch Rexroth Corp.