- Published: June 1, 2017
Manufacturing suppliers pave the way for Industry 4.0
What’s it called again? Industry 4.0? The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), smart manufacturing, the factory of the future? Maybe it’s GE’s “brilliant factory”?
Not everybody agrees on the name, but the general idea behind Industry 4.0 (the term originated in Germany and has become the most widely used) is understood to mean complete integration of digital automation into the physical manufacturing process. It means collecting and using all the data that can be collected, processing and analyzing it, and feeding that information back into the manufacturing process to improve efficiency and quality, anticipate, correct and prevent errors, and give suppliers, manufacturers and customers a high degree of access to each others’ operations.
In June 2015, McKinsey & Co. published “Manufacturing’s Next Act,” which looked at manufacturing’s readiness to embrace Industry 4.0. Among some 300 manufacturers, the researchers found a consensus that 40 to 50 per cent of machines in use today will need to be upgraded or replaced as Industry 4.0 takes hold. That certainly qualifies it as a ‘disruptive’ innovation.
The study also found that some are more prepared than others. While only 48 per cent of manufacturers themselves said they were ready for Industry 4.0, 78 per cent of their suppliers said they were prepared.
Jeff Rizzie, senior manager, business development for Sandvik Coromant, is part of an internal Microsoft group that brings together large manufacturing companies a couple of times a year to exchange Industry 4.0 initiatives and ideas. He’s seen how a supplier like Sandvik Coromant brings a different perspective to discussions about the emerging industrial paradigm.
“What’s interesting is that almost all the other companies talk about Industry 4.0 from the point of view of building digital technology into their own products,” Rizzie says. “’How do I build an aircraft engine that I can monitor remotely?’ ‘How do I build an elevator that I can monitor remotely?’ We’re unique in that group because our products are used by almost all of their customers, so we’re thinking about Industry 4.0 in manufacturing, and we’re trying to drive them to think about it in their own plants.”
Rizzie agrees that for small shops, a lot of the hype around Industry 4.0 seems abstract. But even shops that aren’t CNC-enabled can take incremental steps on some very basic measures.
“For me, it starts with simple OEE monitoring. It’s literally just a matter of hooking up a machine to keep tabs on whether they’re running or not–getting a basic understanding of utilization. Because that’s what most people have no clue about.”
When the data starts coming in, it can bring surprises, especially depending on how you define “utilization.” When Rizzie and his colleagues talk to customers, they find most shop managers peg their utilization rates at between 60 and 70 per cent.
“The truth is the average machine utilization rate is probably sub-40 per cent, maybe sub-30. And you have to qualify what you mean by ‘utilization.’ It’s usually defined as a machine cutting chips. But if it’s not cutting chips on a part that’s going to be good, you’re better powering it down entirely.”
Industry 4.0 wouldn’t be possible without years of development of digital technology to monitor and collect simple data at the point of production. While in the past that data has had to be used selectively, to control and improve specific processes—in particular metrology and quality assurance—the driving idea of Industry 4.0 is to use every data point that can possibly be collected, to generate huge amounts—and new types—of useful information from that data, and to harness the potential of that information to its fullest.
In other words, information technology is catching up with its own potential, and industry suppliers who latched on to the digital wave early on are now in a good position to help customers at any level of automation start to ramp up their Industry 4.0 capabilities.
“We’ve had data output from pretty much every one of our digital tools,” says Peter Detmers, president of Mitutoyo Canada Inc. “And that’s where it starts. The tool has to be able to output the information that it’s seeing when it’s measuring a part.”
The next step after getting the data output is to work with the data at the control level, Detmers says, to understand what’s happening with the controller in real time—whether or not the machine is being operated, whether it’s in error or stop mode and, in the case of a CMM, whether it’s measuring a part or waiting for one.
“For that kind of functionality you need an interface,” Detmers says. “We’ve been adding those interfaces at the controller level for the past few years, understanding that this would become something that the industry would be looking for more and more. It’s taking that data into central storage and being able to do analytics on it to understand what’s going on in the entire process. That’s the new thing Industry 4.0 brings to manufacturing.”
Increasing digitization of the manufacturing process also means that metrology can be moved directly to the point of manufacture, so that problems can be detected and corrected while the process is still underway.
“More and more, we’re moving the metrology into places where it can make decisions and have an effect before it’s too late,” says Jamie King, regional manager, Canada for Blum-Novotest. King cites new touch probes and roughness testers, where the measurement has been relocated directly onto the machine tool.
“In the past, once the part was machined it went to the QA lab and you did inspection there. Basically all you found out was whether you had a good or bad part. Once the part is off, you’ve obviously got rework costs or decisions to be made from there. But when you move the process onto the machine, you can find out before it leaves the machine, which is where you can rework it, do a final cut or change your roughness.”
A common language
One of the main remaining roadblocks to Industry 4.0 is the lack of universally adopted industry-wide data communication standards that allow devices to communicate over a single platform. This will enable a much more modular, plug-and-play approach that will give shops the flexibility to add, replace and connect equipment—and collect and use even more data from their processes.
Industry 4.0 pioneer Dr. Detlef Zühlke, in an article titled “The Rocky Road to the Factory of the Future,” describes the standards challenge as a “chicken and egg problem”:
Industry 4.0 is a network paradigm, so for real solutions to emerge there has to be a network of suppliers offering compatible products. But many of the key interoperability standards required for suppliers to develop these compatible products, and for customers to be confident enough to buy them, are still missing.
Again, suppliers are already working with each other to ensure that their technologies ‘speak’ to each other.
“Our new projects are coming into the shop with the new machines,” King says. “We work with the equipment OEMs before the machine even lands on the floor. Our software is already integrated so we can work with them before it even lands on the shop floor. That’s a big advantage.”
While the standards piece isn’t solved yet, even small shops can take their first Industry 4.0 steps now—and it’s probably a good time to get started because customers can be expected to start favouring partners who demonstrate some level of smart manufacturing.
The good news is that technology has evolved, and ease and simplicity of use have advanced, even for very complex applications. Today even a small, largely manual job shop can take the first small steps without breaking the bank or embarking on a long learning curve.
“Previously, the kind of automation we’re talking about would have taken a huge computer with lots of wires and complicated software, a complicated interface,” says Stephen Veldhuis, director of the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) and a professor in McMaster University’s mechanical engineering department.
“To the average technician on the floor, that kind of thing would be quite intimidating. But now it’s on an app on a smart phone. It’s not so scary anymore.”
There’s much more realism today about automation, Veldhuis says. “What I see now is very collaborative. People are doing what they’re best at and the machinery is doing what it’s best at. There’s much higher value added by people, given their skills and adaptability and knowledge.”
In fact that may be the biggest challenge and promise of Industry 4.0—preventing accumulated human knowledge and experience from being swamped by the sea of data that will drive the next generation of industrial automation.
When Jeff Rizzie or one of his reps visits a customer, the hands-on aspect is front and centre, and he believes this basic human ‘feel’ mustn’t be lost.
“We can walk up to a machine, look at it, put a hand on it; we feel vibration, we can see if the chip formation is right or doesn’t look right, or we’re hearing something. We use all the senses, and they give us an idea of what needs to change.
“What we have to do with Industry 4.0 is take that knowledge and basically put it into the digital realm.” SMT