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Industry 4.0 and all that…

16 October 2016

Suzanne Gill ponders Industry 4.0. Finding out why the UK food industry needs to be getting on board with its principles and what it might mean to the sector in the future. 

Industry 4.0 refers to the next industrial revolution – the digitisation of the manufacturing sector, although it has been acknowledged to be more of an evolution that a revolution. It is also not so much a ‘thing’ as a confluence of ‘things,’ driven by the huge increase in data volumes, computing power, increasing plant connectivity and it incorporates other industry trends such as the Industrial Internet of Things, the Cloud, and Big Data.

Increasing digitalisation and networking is already changing the industrial production chain, and the volume of data worldwide is exploding. The total amount of data worldwide in 2005 was 130 exabytes. This figure had grown to 462 exabytes by 2012 and the volume of data is expected to grow to 14,996 exabytes by 2020 (roughly equivalent to about 15 trillion gigabytes). 

Sharing information
In the future, Industry 4.0 principles are expected to result in billions of machines, systems, and sensors worldwide communicating with each other and sharing information to give enterprises much more transparency into their processes and enabling them to significantly increase production efficiency and offering greater flexibility to tailor production to meet ever changing consumer demand for more customised products.
To get to this point, however, all relevant process information needs to be made available in digital format and all participants of the value chain, including people, objects and systems, need to be networked. This requires secure and consistent digitisation. An area that is currently being worked on, with automation vendors finally getting together in a way that they have not done in the past, to ensure that their systems are able to communicate seamlessly.

Commenting on how Industry 4.0 will affect the food industry in particular, Steve Sands product manager at  Festo said: “Food and drink is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, and one of its best performing - but is also among its most competitive. This is why any opportunities coming to the sector through Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) should be carefully evaluated. Margins in the sector are extremely fine and adding to the cost of machinery without clear payback isn’t logical or desirable. 

“It is vital that leading food and drink manufacturers show the way in adopting smart manufacturing technologies and techniques. Connected and communicating production machinery and supply chains will reduce wastage, enable more flexible production with shorter swap-over times, and will provide greater energy and machinery utilisation transparency, improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness and other key performance factors. Systems and components exchanging information to control and regulate themselves will considerably increase the potential for leaner production. Depending on the product and manufacturers’ individual business models, additional benefits, such as mass customisation or expansive cloud-based track-and-trace capabilities, could be offered.  Some consider the term Industry 4.0 vague or interpret it in different ways, but I am convinced that the increasing digitalisation of manufacturing will have a massive impact over the next five to ten years.” 

Festo observes, focusses on and supports two parallel drivers in the transition towards Industry 4.0. “The first is the technology itself,” continued Sands. “The automation, increased digitalisation, connectivity and intelligence - the cyber-physical systems that underpin Industry 4.0 and IIoT, enabling smarter factories and streamlined production. But just as important in making this happen is the human element: the change management and new skills that will be essential in enabling companies to fully embrace the opportunities of Industry 4.0. This transition will be critical in fully realising the value and productivity gains of Industry 4.0, but will also help enhance and transform tomorrow’s production roles and environments.”

Commenting on how Industry 4.0 might affect the day to day activities of an engineer in the food sector Emma McLeod, principal engineer for process solutions global chocolate R&D team at Mondelez, said: “Working in an R&D function means that we are always trying to improve the manufacturing processes so trends such as Industry 4.0 are, of course, important to us.  We need to have a deep understanding of our products and how the products and equipment interact and this requires us to develop novel measurement methods, sensors and instrumentation that can give us new information about our ingredients and part process materials that can then be used to feed innovative control systems.  

“These control systems will learn from advanced modelling techniques and simulations that will help us make better decisions improving line performance. Data handling will become key as we will start to monitor more parameters online and the automation of control systems will require novel strategies and systems to be developed.  All of this gives exciting opportunities for skilled engineers in the food sector to be really innovative.”

Christien Jones, project director at Village Bakery Group, believes that the UK food industry should be taking notice of the Industry 4.0 trend and says that it has the potential to offer huge advantages. He said: “We are certainly taking these ideas on board as we feel they could offer huge benefits within the bakery sector. The data analysis capabilities of a connected plant, for example, could lead to greater levels of consistency. With consistency comes efficiency and with efficiency comes reward!”

Economic advantages
CBS Group believes that smarter food factories will provide significant economic advantages. While nowadays systems in the food industry are controlled centrally, in the future, machines and raw materials will use information and communication technologies to communicate in a similar way to a social network and will be able to organise production by themselves across company boundaries, it says. 

According to CBS Group the food factory of the future will be intelligent and cross-linked to ensure resource efficiency. Intelligent products will autonomously inform the machine how they should be produced to achieve the best margin. Production will become needs-oriented, employing the direct integration of customer wishes and demand in the ordering and production process. 

Although today fully automatic food factories are still only a vision, many elements of tomorrow's production processes are already being used in the food industry. The solution portfolio of the CSB group of companies, for example, includes practice-proven IT solutions that meet the challenges of a more flexible, more efficient production to intelligently control processes. 

Although there is no need to change everything now to start to see the benefits of a smarter factory, be warned… whether we like it or not digitisation is coming and to see the biggest benefits it is important that it is well managed so it is important to prepare today for tomorrow. The journey to a smart food factory will require conscious and goal-oriented development and the integration of technologies, processes and organisational framework conditions.

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