Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things tools help streamline factory automation

Factories can become smarter through the application of tools used for Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things initiatives, according to Aurelio Banda, Beckhoff Automation. Banda, named president of North American operations (Beckhoff Automation LLC) effective Jan. 1, 2015, spoke to Control Engineering and Plant Engineering recently about manufacturing automation trends and tips.

By Mark T. Hoske December 23, 2014

If optimizing manufacturing productivity takes too much time and effort, due to an insufficient flow of information, perhaps it’s time for a smarter factory, incorporating tools and concepts used for Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things. These ideas were expressed to Control Engineering and Plant Engineering on Dec. 15 by Aurelio Banda, Beckhoff Automation vice president of sales and marketing. Banda was named to be president of Beckhoff Automation LLC North American operations, effective Jan. 1, 2015. [The subsidiary’s current president, Graham Harris, will assume a regional management role as part of a planned transition from the leadership role Harris has held since 2003.] 

Automated productivity vs. networking

Factory automation enhances productivity, Banda said, but can inhibit industrial communications along the way, especially when networking happens via device-to-device connections, as with many legacy automation systems.

Industry 4.0, a concept developed in Europe to encourage greater manufacturing productivity, helps to promote smarter, more competitive factories by gathering data from devices in real-time and turning it into information that can be used to capture market share and increase profits. What’s the most cost effective way to automate to this level of productivity? Manufacturers must adapt to provide a larger number of customized products and at a more rapid pace through their supply chains, or their competitors will. There is often anxiety about being left behind as things begin moving more quickly.

"Manufacturers need to adapt quickly to learn how to serve the consumers of tomorrow," Banda said, explaining that Beckhoff Automation builds efficiency and cost effectiveness around implementations for increased profit and productivity. Manufacturing connectivity in Industry 4.0 is similar to what most people consider with IoT today. 

Building a connectivity standard

The OPC Foundation’s Unified Architecture (UA) framework is one way of providing secure horizontal connectivity on the plant floor, as well as up through the enterprise and out through the supply chain. Customers want to buy machines from different manufacturers and have those machines talk to each other without complicated gateways or the limitations of staying with one vendor to outfit the entire factory.

"No one manufacturer can do it all," Banda said. "So then the manufacturer must connect disparate systems, which takes the company where they didn’t want to go. Why not just look at a standard way of communicating across platforms, such as with OPC UA?" 

3 connectivity deliverables

Banda explained that manufacturers need to consider how more efficient industrial communications can:

  1. Add efficiency while delivering shorter product runs, more complex products, more frequent material changes, faster deliveries, different mixes of packaging and distribution, better change forecasting, supply chain management, and product traceability.
  2. Improve machine uptime, decreasing labor costs, conserving or consolidating factory floor space, augmenting throughput, and using less capital.
  3. Reduce scrap, waste, and energy use; in short, stop wasting money.

Putting that into practice delivers higher flexibility and greater efficiency, at a lower cost. Global manufacturing offers additional challenges to adapt profitably, quickly, and consistently to demand.

"Often, management cannot see production status in multiple plants globally, measure performance, or improve execution in real time. This is where IoT is overlapping with Industry 4.0: to pull data out in a uniform way," Banda explained.

Flexible manufacturing future

Future manufacturing will include more flexible machining lines, and faster machines that are more accurate, smarter, and more efficient, offering greater connectivity to the IT worlds of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES). Tools to achieve these goals include intelligence devices and systems, as well as analytics. The IoT connects these devices, providing data as well as analytics. Consumers want tools to make the experience simpler and easier. Being part of the consumer’s identity, regularly, is a natural progression, Banda suggested.

Industry 4.0 suggests the fourth generation of industrial revolution, Banda explained. Industry 1.0 was the first industrial revolution, driven by wide implementation of steam engines. Industry 2.0 incorporated mass production with use of the conveyor belt. Industry 3.0 was enabled by electronics and IT, with automation of production using computers, numerical control (NC), and programmable logic controllers (PLCs).

Industry 4.0, as the next step, integrates cyber-physical production systems. Consumer input determines how and when manufacturers produce their products. Information and communication technology (ICT) and smart automation connect and enable the integration of embedded production systems and processes, creating intelligent, object-oriented (OO) networking, moving from centralized to decentralized models, and evolving into cyber-physical design and simulation by using models and intelligent software. Manufacturing needs to create information about production using customer data from the supply chain to make smarter decisions, according to Banda.

In April 2013, the Industry 4.0 Working Group noted the greatest challenges to implementing Industry 4.0, in descending order: standardization, process/work organization, product availability, new business models, security, lack of specialist staff, research, training and continuing professional development, and regulatory framework.

Banda noted that tools to help with Industry 4.0 implementation include: better horizontal and vertical communication, discovery services, vertical and horizontal modeling information, scalability, operating system and language independence, safety authentication, electronic signatures, encryption, and use of standards. OPC UA and open data exchange protocols help, as does PC-based control. Beckhoff Automation’s programmable automation controllers, as an example, integrate, "An intelligent industrial PC with a variety of powerful automation functions and flexible connectivity in one device, which includes OPC UA," Banda said. 

Tighter controls, more savings

Efficiency examples include Husky injection molded plastic containers; the company implemented PC-based technologies to realize savings — 10% less material used per plastic part and 250,000 lb of product material savings per year, amounting to more than $182,000 in savings annually. Part weight variations are less than or equal to 0.3%.

In another implementation, Matrix Packaging Machinery redesigned a continuous motion, vertical form, fill, and seal machine to provide greater data connectivity and the ability to change variables around production. EtherCAT (an industrial Ethernet protocol) was used on servos, one cable motors, and in input/output devices, reducing cabinet size, increasing uptime 20% to 30%, and reducing waste by 15%, with architecture costs reduced by nearly 50%. With greater flexibility and easier communication, product changeover times are reduced.

As another example, Elster used "Controller to SAP ERP" system communications employing OPC UA standards to better connect devices on the plant floor with the rest of the enterprise and supply chain. Sensor data flows to controllers and to the cloud for secure monitoring and analysis, feeding information to a database, Banda explained.

Banda continued, citing company founder Hans Beckhoff, explaining that engineers have a societal duty to improve manufacturing efficiency by significantly increasing the efficiency of manufacturing production; the challenge is to control machines more intelligently. 

German cabinetmaker

In Verl, Germany, cabinetmaker Nobilia had to adapt to mass-customization manufacturing to meet growing market demands. Nobilia smart machines communicate among each other and to smart cells and ordering tools, allowing processes to pull raw materials into the supply chain as needed. Object-oriented machine operations interact based on the "recipe" of the cabinets ordered. 

Get to the smart factory

The factory of the future will be more horizontally and vertically connected, implemented in a more cost-effective manner with a machine-level controller pushing data, using a human-machine interface (HMI) for analysis, trending, and alarming – moving information to and from other areas of the company as needed to make the smart factory more responsive to consumer demands. Industry 4.0 facilitates greater innovation for the manufacturing industry using advanced automation engineering to improve horizontal and vertical integration, as well as integrated design over the product lifecycle.

While U.S. manufacturers increasingly recognize the need, they are lagging behind with Industry 4.0 implementation by about five years, Banda suggested, as compared to European manufacturers. OPC UA is one of the enabling tools which manufacturers can leverage to help close this gap.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering,, part of CFE Media, with Plant Engineering.

Key concepts

  • Industry 4.0 and industrial Internet of Things help connectivity.
  • OPC United Architecture enables industrial communications.
  • Embedded PC-based controls advance smarter factories.

Consider this

Are you accelerating into smart manufacturing by using tools for Industry 4.0 and industrial Internet of Things? 

ONLINE extra

OPC UA 1.0, introduced in 2006, provides connectivity for manufacturing, one tool for smart factories, industrial Internet of Things, and Industry 4.0

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