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Industry 4.0 unplugged

25 September 2014

Still in its infancy, Industry 4.0 could be the future of manufacturing. Sophisticated software and machines that communicate with each other to optimise production could revolutionise the manufacturing industry.

The latest research shows that the most successful OEMs and machine builders are now generating between 20 – 40% of their revenues and profits from services rather than ‘pure’ manufacturing. The key enabler to this machine servicing approach is the explosion in manufacturing devices connected over internet communications technology. “Manufacturers have moved from being unconnected to being able to talk and listen to their machines and technologies,” says John Pritchard, Managing Director at MAC Solutions. “The more forward-thinking OEMs are, for example, already collecting data remotely across the internet on a routine basis and then using this data to offer improved services to their customers, or to create new offerings that can delivered worldwide. These services can improve machine performance, reduce production costs, predict future maintenance needs, improve training methods, increase customer loyalty and create new, sustainable revenue streams.”

Key to this machine-servicing or internet servicing approach is to understand and then utilise the latest, cutting edge Industry 4.0 technology. Industry 1.0 began with the industrial revolution, which was followed by Industry 2.0 – the rise of mass production. Industry 3.0 began with the advent of computer-based manufacturing and the future, according to industry experts, is Industry 4.0 which promotes the computerisation of manufacturing where processes are no longer viewed as separate entities but as one integrated ‘cyber-physical’ system comprising processors, sensors, software and communication technologies. 

Industry 4.0 is the latest buzzword in the industry, according to Steve Hughes, Managing Director at REO UK. “The term originated at the Hannover Messe a couple of years ago, when it was defined as the computerisation of manufacturing, including a transition to higher levels of interconnectivity, smarter plants and communication between machines and equipment.”

“Although we may still be some years away from Industry 4.0, there are now strong signals emerging that the world is preparing for it,” says Pritchard. “By connecting production systems, machines, processes and work pieces, intelligent networks can be created along the entire value chain that can control each other autonomously. Take, for example, a machine that is able to predict failures and trigger maintenance activity autonomously, without any manual intervention.”

The concept places a strong emphasis on the role of intelligent factories as energy efficient organisations, based on high-tech, adaptable and ergonomic production lines. “Smart factories aim to integrate customers and business partners, while also being able to manufacture and assemble customised products,” adds Hughes. “Industry 4.0 is more about machines doing the work and interpreting the data, than relying on human intelligence. The human element is still central to the manufacturing process, but fulfils a control, programming and servicing role rather than a shop floor function.”

Hughes believes that the Siemens (IW 1000/34) Electronic Works facility in Amberg, Germany, is a good example of the next generation of smart plants. “The 108,000 square-foot high-tech facility is home to an array of smart machines that coordinate everything from the manufacturing line to the global distribution of the company’s products,” says Hughes. “The custom, built-to-order process involves more than 1.6 billion components for over 50,000 annual product variations, for which Siemens sources about 10,000 materials from 250 suppliers to make the plant’s 950 different products. This means the amount of data the system has to work with is truly overwhelming.” A Gartner industry study conducted in 2010 found that the plant has a reliability rate of more than 99%, with only 15 defects in every million finished products.

By adopting the latest 4.0 technologies, machine builders and process equipment suppliers can maximise their revenues and offer new value-added services that improve their customers’ performance. As manufacturers look to gain an edge over their competitors, Industry 4.0 can offer such an edge.

Machine builders can equip their machines or process equipment with the appropriate hardware devices and utilise open-standard software and secure internet communication technologies to ensure that their business is positioned for sustainable growth in an increasingly competitive and connected world. According to Pritchard, the components and functionalities of the hardware, software and Internet-Servicing technologies should include:

Communication and data collection
Data needs to be collected from the machine/process equipment using VPN routers and an appropriate, secure internet platform, with software to process this data
Data historian
Data files are stored by data historian software, which should be able to cater for both small-scale and enterprise-sized systems
The data historian should provide full reporting capabilities from archived process data over any time period, and the reports viewed, distributed and published in-house for the machine builder’s own internal use, as well as viewable across the internet for the customer’s use
The software suite should hold web-publishing functionality, whereby reports, real-time data and trended machine/process data can be viewed across the internet. HMI and SCADA visualisation software based on open standard web-technology will enable access from any PC, Mac, mobile or smartphone device without plug-ins
Alarm alert and notification
A mechanism or portal for alarm information can provide suitable workflows and an escalation system to notify the appropriate person, and ensure that the right action is taken at the right time.

“Industry 4.0 will ultimately represent a significant change in manufacturing and industry,” says Hughes. “In the long run, the sophisticated software implanted in factory equipment could help machines self-regulate and make more autonomous decisions. Decentralisation also means tasks currently performed by a central master computer will be taken over by system components. Industry 4.0 is an excellent opportunity for the UK food and beverage industry to apply its skills and technologies to gradually start the shift towards smarter factories. New technologies will also lead to more flexible, sustainable and eco-friendly production and manufacturing lines. The first step is taking the Industry 4.0 concept from the land of buzzwords to the land of research and development.”

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