Connecting the potential of Industry 4.0 with real manufacturing
One of the most dominant topics across the automation and manufacturing industry landscape right now is Industry 4.0, with many buzzwords, strategic ideas, concepts and approaches being aired. However, among all of this discussion manufacturers must still focus on actual production that generates strong returns on investment. So how can machine builders and controls engineers translate Industry 4.0 concepts into practical technologies for deployment on the factory floor?
Defining Industry 4.0 and company focus areas
We see Industry 4.0 as the rapid transformation of industry, where the virtual world of information technology, the physical world of machines and the Internet have become one. Industry 4.0 centers on the integration of all areas of industry made possible by information technology.
The proliferation of machine-to- machine communication and the vastly improved intelligence in those machines will lead to more automated processes, self-monitoring and results in real time. Open web-based platforms will create the foundation for keeping companies competitive and responsive, creating new opportunities.
At Bosch Rexroth, we’re developing new device-to-device connections to enable horizontal control and communication on the plant floor. We are also working with other Bosch divisions, such as Bosch Software Innovations, to integrate with their vertical control solutions like Bosch IoT Suite 2.0 and drive further innovation.
Improving manufacturers’ success
The goal is to deploy technologies that can make a dramatic difference in the way manufacturers operate. Industry 4.0 technologies should improve a manufacturer’s flexibility and speed, enabling more individualized products, efficient and scalable production, and a high variance in production control.
It should also enable small-scale production of single lots alongside mass production, as well as optimized processes and inventory stocks through real-time information transparency and high-production availability. To that end, we’re focused on helping OEMs and equipment builders make their machines both more connected and more autonomous.
Developing technology for machine-product interactions
When we as consumers use the resources on the Internet—for example, smartphone apps that give us GPS directions as well as locations of the nearest gas station and personal restaurant preferences—that information is being processed in the cloud and is custom-tailored, user by user, to satisfy very specific needs. But much of the individual processing is handled locally by the device or app.
The same dynamic is becoming a reality on the shop floor. That’s where we’re focusing —on the machines, the automation technology that goes into them and the value-added industrial networks that will knit them together.
Manufactured products themselves are also becoming more intelligent and “aware” of their own history, their current state, their target state, and various options for attaining that state. They become linked with the manufacturer’s business processes, transforming them from passive objects into active ones.
We want to enable machines and manufactured products to interact together inside the Industry 4.0 factory. Machines will be able to determine whether a fault is present and, using independent calculations, simultaneously determine when maintenance is required. This new machine-product interaction will make production and logistics more flexible since information will no longer need to be processed by a single central unit.
Key factors to consider for Industry 4.0
There are five qualities for devices designed around the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) which we believe need to work together to bring about the Industry 4.0 “manufacturing environment” we’ve described: decentralized intelligence, rapid connectivity, open standards and systems, real-time integration and autonomous behavior.
The first is decentralized intelligence, also called distributed intelligence, where intelligent drive and control technologies are designed to network with other devices with decentralized autonomy—putting as much intelligence and control capability as possible within the machine, or even the individual drive axis, rather than handling all activity and control from a single central processing unit (CPU).
The ability to process data at the machine level and deciding what to do with it reflects our belief that you can equip the machine to do something with the process data and improve the process on its own—adjust throughput, utilize energy more efficiently and so forth —rather than depending on the “cloud” to handle all these tasks.
The machines are still connected, still communicating to higher line- level, plant-level and enterprise-level networks, but they have the capacity and systems to make event-specific or product-specific adjustments in real-time. Bosch Rexroth has been laying the groundwork for this Industry 4.0 capability for some time: Distributed, drive-based controls is an automation architecture we have been perfecting for several years.
Technology such as drive-integrated servo motors and cabinet-free drive systems, which place drive components and motion logic sequencing at individual axis, reflect this concept in their architecture. Even with hydraulics, the combination of hydraulic actuators with integrated digital control electronics allow control functions to be shifted to local software, where intelligent control algorithms developed specifically for hydraulic requirements are already in place. All the user has to do is define the motion parameters.
Systems that facilitate instant vertical or horizontal connectivity to allow data to flow freely across the enterprise structure need continual investment and improvement.
Leveraging all the intelligence and information available on an Industry 4.0 factory floor could overwhelm networks, so this is really a network design challenge: How can we improve both the physical and software capabilities of our automation systems to make this design process simpler, less-time consuming and more open?
We’re trying to streamline how the communication paths—both vertically, to central production servers, and horizontally between production nodes and machines—are created and implemented. For example, determining what fieldbus capabilities should be utilized; looking at whether the production platform support standards such as OPC UA; determining how much effort will be needed to write drivers to translate machine data for use in the rest of the plant.
These and other communications issues currently take up a substantial amount of time and cost in creating automation solutions, so eliminating barriers between various supplier systems and taking a more open approach to communications and controls platforms is more important than ever in the Industry 4.0 era.
Open standards and systems
There needs to be a focus on expanding how “open” systems are, both in terms of support for emerging communications and software standards, and in how open individual components are, to make Industry 4.0 a reality.
The use of open standards allows the more flexible integration of software- based solutions—with the possibility to migrate new technologies into existing automation structures. Our award-winning Rexroth Open Core Engineering (OCE) control and engineering platform is a significant step in that direction. OCE bridges the gap between automation and IT software programming and opens up our controller kernel, through the Open Core Interface, to enable the creation of automation applications using common high-level IT languages such as Java and C++.
In Industry 4.0, the operation of a machine tool or a packaging machine should allow for easy connections with smart devices such as phones or tablets. OCE also offers a powerful tool to help speed the design and commissioning of automation systems with the direct connection of the controller to 3-D modeling software, like SolidWorks. The Rexroth MLC motion controller, for example, can send commands and receive feedback from the model itself, allowing the functionality of the machine to be optimized with motion control in the mechanical design phase. This allows testing and programming of a machine before commissioning, replacing expensive and time- consuming physical prototypes. These virtual machines can have all their functionality tested and refined before any parts are ordered to build the machine.
Real-time context integration
In Industry 4.0 factories, it will be possible to draw on real-time machine and plant performance data to change the way automation systems and production processes are managed. Instead of capturing and analyzing several months’ worth of data on throughput rates, machine downtime or energy consumption, Industry 4.0-enabled platforms will integrate that type of data into routine plant management reporting. This will equip manufacturers, and even the machines themselves, with detailed information they can use to execute the rapid process and production changes necessary to fulfill the vision of profitably making products for specific customer needs.
This is one aspect of Industry 4.0 where Bosch Rexroth has implemented real-world initiatives to make our own production more connected and demand-driven. We are deploying technology that allows the production line to become autonomous. The goal: workstations and modules that can adapt as needed to individual customer or product needs.
At our manufacturing facility for hydraulic valves in Homburg, Germany, we have installed a new adaptive assembly line. Using an RFID chip on each work piece, the nine intelligent stations on the line recognize how the finished product has to be assembled and accordingly, which tool settings and operational steps are necessary.
Each associate carries a Bluetooth tag that stores critical information and automatically transmits it to the assembly station. The assembly stations adjust themselves ergonomically to individual associates and display instructions in the appropriate font size and language on the workstation monitor. Information about the assembly steps is displayed with a matching level of detail depending on the product and the skill level of the associate.
With this line, we can produce hydraulic valves with a lot size of one if needed and can manufacture 25 different product variants without the need for human intervention. Set-up times or excessive stocking are not necessary. We achieved a 10 percent increase in productivity and a 30 percent decrease in inventory.
Moving toward Industry 4.0 is revolutionary and evolutionary
Certainly the impact of Industry 4.0 will be as great as previous industrial revolutions. But it is an evolution, because it’s about moving manufacturing forward, day by day.
It’s not necessary to focus only on greenfield sites to start Industry 4.0 initiatives or to rearrange your complete production environment. Our goal is to help machine builders and manufacturers implement Industry 4.0 features in the existing production environment and enable them take advantage of technologies like OCE that we have already deployed. And, as at Homburg, we are already doing that within our own factories with off-the-shelf Rexroth drive and control products.
With Industry 4.0, we will also see a beneficial evolution of the role of people in the manufacturing environment, with workers making judgements and applying higher-level skills and expertise in new ways.
It won’t come all at once and it won’t require massive investments and complete overhauling of factory management and production processes. Much of the technology for Industry 4.0 is already in place, and through the smart use of pilot projects and step-by-step iterative changes in manufacturing platforms and operations, we can determine the best ways to make Industry 4.0 deliver on the promise it offers.