Putting Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things to work in smart factories

Cover story: Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are enabled with connectivity to and from devices (from a sensor to a large-scale control system), data, and analytics. Sensors and systems need connectivity with a greater network to share data; analysis allows people to make informed decisions. Industry 4.0 is working for German kitchen manufacturer, Nobilia. Ask three questions on the way to a smarter factory.

By Daymon Thompson June 1, 2015

Connectivity technology has sparked a significant shift in society where the Internet plays an ever-increasing role in our daily lives as a growing number of devices become Web-enabled, and these concepts can be applied to improve manufacturing efficiencies. The trend of greater connectivity, often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), is only a precursor to the avalanche of growth on the horizon, however. The Business Insider news site estimates that by 2017, 82% of companies will have an IoT application implemented into their businesses in some way. [This is part of the June Control Engineering cover story on Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things to help make smarter factories.]

Let’s take a step back and dive deeper into how we define IoT. Breaking it down to its basic components, IoT consists of four basic elements: the actual device, connectivity to and from that device, data, and analytics. The device can be anything from one sensor to a large-scale control system. Sensors and systems need connectivity with a greater network to share the third element—the data generated by the sensor or system. The analysis of this data generates actionable information, allowing people to make informed decisions as a result.

More information, faster

An example of this from the consumer space would be enabling a shoe to track usage info, such as number of days worn per week, how many hours per day, how many hours spent running, or which part of the sole took the most pressure. This information would allow the shoe manufacturer to build a better shoe, perhaps enabling the creation of a more customized product in the future based on individual use of the previous product. This same model is now being applied to cars. By connecting cars to the cloud and monitoring driving habits and car feature usage, auto manufacturers are leveraging this information to improve new car designs.

The evolution of the Internet has enabled instantaneous information delivery to the consumer, changing the behaviors in people’s daily lives. In much the same way, connectivity and data analysis will change the operations of the factory, the behaviors of personnel in manufacturing industries, and the way we think about production.

Industrial connections

Putting this into practice for industry, often referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), devices or assets connect to the cloud or local information technology (IT) infrastructure to collect and/or transmit data. This data can then be analyzed, providing insight about the device or asset.

For example, sensors monitoring the operating temperature in mechanical components can track any abnormalities or deviations from an established baseline. This allows the company to proactively address undesired behavior as predictive maintenance before crippling system failures can develop, which would otherwise lead to plant downtime and lost production revenue. Information of this magnitude offers incredible value to the enterprise, helping to influence new product designs, streamline system performance, and maximize profitability.

Flexible manufacturing, Industry 4.0

As with IoT, use of connectivity to drive new insights and optimizations can be applied to a manufacturing process and overall supply chain. This is one of the core concepts of Industry 4.0, a technological movement, commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.

Industry 4.0 working group Acatech defines the first industrial revolution as the invention and widespread implementation of the steam engine during the 18th century. The second major revolution in industry was the use of conveyor belts for assembly line manufacturing in the early 1900s (Henry Ford’s "Model T" factory). The third industrial revolution was defined by the development of microelectronics, specifically the PC and programmable logic controller (PLC), in the mid-1900s. This leads us to today’s fourth revolution, where the connectivity of PCs and machines to the Internet has enabled the creation of cyber-physical systems.

Industry 4.0 will be fully realized with the computerization of traditional industries within manufacturing. Using IoT and this concept of cyber-physical systems will result in the implementation of the "Smart Factory," enabling unparalleled manufacturing flexibility while maintaining exceptionally lean operational efficiency. In the realm of manufacturing, an area of significant focus is not only on the product, but on the process of making that product.

Manufacturers need flexible manufacturing lines that can quickly adapt to rapidly changing customer demands. This calls for flexible machines that are able to run a multitude of product types, with the ultimate goal of profitable production at reduced lot sizes, enabling a complex mixture of products to be run and filled on-demand.

Today, manufacturers also are evaluating how to use big data to get more out of the capital equipment currently in use, while ensuring that new equipment will be built with highly connected control systems. This is where PC-based machine controls solve real connectivity and data challenges. The successful implementation of a Smart Factory really boils down to a convergence of traditional automation technologies (AT) with tools and processes from IT. As such, PC-based control systems are ideally positioned to meet and even exceed the demands of Industry 4.0 concepts.

Industrial PC (IPC) hardware that uses the latest highly efficient and fast processor technology provides flexibility that traditional "black box" controllers cannot provide without adding great expense. While easily processing real-time logic and motion control algorithms, there is plenty of extra processing power within industrial PCs for data collection and communications to higher level systems, such as enterprise-level databases or even the cloud.

Leveraging the power of modern multicore CPUs, the data from the machine or line can be analyzed directly on the controller, with only the results sent back to upstream systems. This is known as "on the fly" analytics or "edge computing." This method greatly reduces the amount of raw data that must be stored on servers, either on premises or in the cloud, and reduces the amount of network traffic being generated. Systems using analytics on the machine controller will run leaner and more efficiently as the results of the analysis can be immediately used to influence the operation. This, in turn, enables manufacturers to implement far greater functionality while minimizing delays in production previously caused by enterprise level "number crunching" and data storage. 

From big idea to implementation

While we tend to think only of communications protocols when discussing the IIoT and Industry 4.0, the implementation of those protocols and the development of other machine logic must also be considered. Software in the context of today’s convergence of AT and IT permits machine control programming in multiple languages, facilitating a much wider range of engineering tools to complete necessary tasks. Efficient programming is possible, regardless of the background or preferences of the programmer. Programming options can include the traditional automation PLC languages, or C++ from the IT space, or even software tools that refine process algorithms and then generate real-time control code.

However, protocol selection should not escape careful consideration in controls platforms that are primed for Industry 4.0 connectivity. While many traditional PLCs offer different fieldbuses, machines need a faster, more flexible communications protocol, such as EtherCAT, for deterministic communication to sensors, servos, and other motion hardware. EtherCAT, an industrial Ethernet protocol managed by the EtherCAT Technology Group, also can act as a gateway to many other communications protocols to successfully connect legacy equipment.

A critical component of implementing this level of connectivity is a secure and easy-to-configure protocol that can transmit data safely to the enterprise or cloud or even horizontally to other machines. For this tough job, the vendor-independent OPC Unified Architecture (UA) protocol, from the OPC Foundation, for industrial environments offers integrated security functionality, data encryption, and advanced information modeling.

Industry 4.0 today

Though it may seem far off, the implementation of Industry 4.0 is happening today. Successful integration of PC-based controls that support a highly connected Smart Factory can be found with German kitchen manufacturer, Nobilia. As one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of complete kitchens, Nobilia produces more than 2,500 per day. Though this figure is significant in and of itself, Nobilia takes on the Industry 4.0 challenge by manufacturing each set of kitchen cabinetry to the unique specifications outlined by the customer. This automation of "lot size 1" manufacturing requires an incredibly sophisticated system with high flexibility—achieved through the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts.

When an order reaches the Nobilia plant, the system itself determines the necessary materials, the required machines to finish all the components, calculates how to best move the customized order through the factory, and efficiently completes the construction of the custom kitchen cabinets. This exemplifies the entire point of a Smart Factory-efficient production and superior flexibility, with little intervention by plant personnel required.

Create your Smart Factory

As previously stated, the IIoT and Industry 4.0 are not concepts solely discussed in academia for possible implementation at some far future date. Industry 4.0 and the IIoT are happening now, and controls integrators and end users must become familiar with these concepts and adapt or change their controls platform accordingly to capitalize.

So where to start with Industry 4.0? A recommendation made by the World Economic Forum in January 2015 as a result of its study on IIoT similarly explained: "Companies that still are new to the Industrial Internet should identify one or two relevant pathfinder applications that can be piloted within the next six months to create necessary momentum and learning."

When these pathfinder applications are identified, it is important to keep Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory concepts in mind as a barometer of the possibilities, but make the solution go to work for your application. Think about what your company can do with the connectivity and data to drive tangible results in a Smart Factory project. 

Smart factory: three questions

Three key questions to ask on the way to a smarter factory are:

1. Do you want to further automate rapid product changeovers and better respond to market demands?

2. Do you want to drive up your overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and production throughput by identifying areas for continuous improvement?

3. Do you want to root out waste (such as energy, raw materials, and idle time)?

Only you can determine and refine your real-world Smart Factory goals, but the tools to realize them and succeed are available via PC-based control hardware and software.

– Daymon Thompson is TwinCAT product specialist, Beckhoff Automation; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

Key concepts

  • IIoT and Industry 4.0 include greater connectivity of devices and systems.
  • Industry 4.0 concepts are in practice today.
  • PC-based control hardware and software are useful Smart Factory tools.

Consider this

What tools can you use to improve information integration as part of Industry 4.0 concepts? 

ONLINE extra

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

Also see a related article on Industry 4.0 below as well as links from the following:




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

Author Bio: Daymon Thompson, automation product manager – North America, Beckhoff Automation.