As one of the world’s leading manufacturing companies, Bosch strives to be both a lead provider and a lead user of Industry 4.0 technologies. Worldwide, the company has more than 70 Internet of Things (IoT) projects running in a variety of industries and applications.

Bosch Rexroth, the company’s drive and control technology business, engineers many of the Industry 4.0 technologies used in Bosch manufacturing facilities, including its own. This enables Bosch Rexroth to test new technologies within its four walls in real-world applications before making the products available to the market, ensuring that only the highest-quality technological advancements are sold. In 50 plants across the globe, Rexroth manufactures products that put technology in motion, including hydraulic motors and pumps, electric drives and controls, and linear motion and assembly technologies.

One of the most sophisticated operations is Bosch Rexroth’s industrial hydraulics plant in Bethlehem, PA. The Bethlehem plant is one of the first Rexroth facilities worldwide to implement a full-scale manufacturing line using Rexroth’s rapidly growing Industry 4.0 technology portfolio. The new multi-product line (MPL) mixes automated and manual systems with technology that connects operators, machinery and parts to make 34,500 different product variants. The result has been a significant increase in productivity, coupled with invaluable experience gained in the deployment of these forward-thinking technologies. Within the MPL are a variety of components that work in unison to provide Bethlehem with the tools to keep up with the demands of the fourth industrial revolution.


Manufacturing Execution System

The factory’s manufacturing execution system (MES) is responsible for collecting, filtering and displaying production data in real time. Since the MES is constantly running, it plays a crucial role in managing the MPL by providing operators and managers with immediate status updates from all areas of the line. The MPL uses Bosch Rexroth’s ActiveCockpit software to visualize production data from every corner of the plant on a single 65-inch screen that is centrally located at the plant.

Rexroth employees who are not near the display can still access the information from mobile devices, laptops or tablets as part of Rexroth’s efforts to go paperless and eliminate administrative work for daily floor management. Since operators and managers can access the information from anywhere in the plant, ActiveCockpit can alert them of a problem, allowing them to take corrective action from anywhere in the plant, reducing downtime and minimizing errors. In Bethlehem, employees use the ActiveCockpit to meet for 15 minutes at the beginning of every shift to review the previous day’s data and plan out the day accordingly. ActiveCockpit’s built-in functionality includes the ability to run meetings, including taking attendance, recording and storing meeting minutes, and sending the notes to absent attendees. What makes ActiveCockpit and its Industry 4.0-related products flexible is that it’s completely configurable for unique applications.


Radio Frequency Identification Tags

Industry 4.0 at Rexroth is about using automated technology to support workers in their everyday tasks. The key to doing this is customization.

Each worker on the MPL has a name tag with an embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Individual workstations throughout the MPL are programmed to read the RFID tags and adapt the workplace to their skills and preferences. This includes ergonomic initiatives, such as automatically adjusting the height of workbenches, and providing instructions based on experience. The RFID tag can connect with workstations to initiate material requests or assembly instructions on behalf of the worker, allowing employees to focus on creating high-quality products. Using RFID tags, Rexroth ensures that each employee can work in a space designed specifically for their needs, increasing worker productivity and comfort.

The same technology that customizes employee work processes assists with identifying product variants as they come down the line. All products made on the MPL have a unique identification tag. As the products move down the line, the product’s RFID tag is closely monitored by the production control system to trigger replenishment of components when necessary. Additionally, product carts are identified by RFID tags, and automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are automatically alerted to pick up materials for the next production cycle.


Light-Guided System

Once the workstation has identified a worker’s personalized RFID tag, the instructions for assembling the current product are beamed onto the station with a light guided system (LGS). Since the workstations are customized to the individual, the LGS displays the instruction with the level of detail appropriate for the worker’s level of experience.

When executing a task that requires assembly, the highest risk from a quality perspective is whether the right component will make it to the right spot at the right moment in assembly. To combat this challenge, the LGS is equipped with a camera and sensors to confirm that operators move forward with the operation per the standard. If the camera detects that the operator is about to use the wrong piece in the wrong sequence, the LGS prohibits movement further in the instructions until the error has been corrected. With its built-in scanners, the LGS has the ability to read the RFID tags of products, activating the instructions for that product to be displayed.


Production Performance Manager

In contrast to the MES, which is mainly utilized for administrative documentation, the production performance manager (PPM)—software developed by Bosch Software Innovations—is installed in the MPL to monitor manufacturing processes. The PPM helps engineers visualize data in real time and has the capacity to track the many sensors integrated into the MPL, allowing it to measure features such as temperature, flow, pressure, vibrations, torque, sounds and other operating characteristics.

Like the MES, the PPM is customizable to a plant’s unique application. With the PPM, users can apply predetermined thresholds, or “rules,” to the data to ensure the plant is running efficiently. If a rule is crossed, the PPM can automatically issue a ticket and alert the appropriate employee with the right qualifications and responsibility to deal with the affected machine for an immediate resolution. For example, if the PPM senses that a hydraulic filter is clogged and data shows performance levels are below the threshold of a properly functioning filter, an alert will be automatically issued to ensure quick action on the issue.

The ultimate goal is to get ahead of the maintenance process, minimize downtime and ensure the equipment is always performing at its peak. In conjunction with a maintenance support system, the PPM can also provide diagnostics and recommend the ideal repair strategy from its knowledge database to maintain continuous operation.


Bottom Line

While using the MPL, the Bethlehem plant has experienced an impressive improvement in its production processes. Boasting an overall 2.8-year return on investment, the MPL has benefitted the plant with a 27 percent reduction in cycle time, a 50 percent reduction in downtime-related maintenance, and a 50 percent reduction in floor space. More importantly, most of the technology being utilized on the MPL is provided by Bosch divisions and is available for sale to manufacturers.

“We wanted to achieve quality improvements and additional productivity,” says Manfred Hahn, vice president and technical plant manager for Bosch Rexroth. “The technology we added to our multi-product line this is exactly what we needed to meet those objectives.

Through its multi-product line, Bosch has gained invaluable firsthand experience on the ability of connected technology to enhance productivity and efficiency in assembly operations, parts supply, worker guidance and quality control. To learn more about the MPL and see the different components in action, watch our recent video: