Though it’s at the forefront of thought around industrial technology developments in Europe, the Industry 4.0 initiative is still gaining traction in the U.S. and the rest of the world. If you’re still getting up to speed on Industry 4.0, the bottom line of this German government initiative is to drive the fourth industrial revolution centered around use of the Internet and digital technologies to connect customers and business partners to the production process to foster the customization of products and delivery of high-quality services.
For followers of industrial technology, the objectives of Industry 4.0 should sound very familiar. After all, it’s essentially what industry suppliers have been inching toward for the past two decades. Remember the buzz about “shop floor-to-top floor connectivity” back in the late 1990s? Well, Industry 4.0 is essentially an update of that idea. The difference now is that the government behind of one of the world’s more prominent industrial economies is driving it.
At Hannover Fair 2014, evidence of industry compliance with the idea was clear at nearly every exhibit—especially at those hosted by Germany-based companies.
Bosch Rexroth’s exhibit highlighted a flexible assembly line comprised of five independent modules housing a variety of Bosch Rexroth technologies ranging from drives, motors and controllers to networks, vision systems and assembly tooling. The line can produce two types of products—a key with an RFID tag or a flashlight. No device or assembly line module changes are needed to switch between the two products—only a basic programming step to start the process is required. The assembly line’s energy consumption is recorded and managed during all steps and condition monitoring is used to collect component statistics for maintenance management.
Phoenix Contact’s booth also featured a flexible assembly line that could produce up to six variations of a circuit breaker. The assembly process in Phoenix Contact’s exhibit starts by using ePlan’s electrical design software to configure the electric circuit to be used in the end product. This information is then moved into Phoenix Contact’s Clip Project software for the creation and documentation of terminal strips. Clip Project displays options for placement of terminals based on the circuit design. All of this digital information is then fed into the assembly machine’s control system for order management. A variety of actuators, conveyors and end effectors in the assembly machine produce the circuit breaker automatically—even to the point of adding an RFID tag containing information such as the circuit breaker’s order number, information on how to mount the product, and other application and safety information the user might need to access in the circuit breaker’s life.
Mathias Wesselman, control systems R&D project manager at Phoenix Contact, said that this assembly machine illustrates Industry 4.0 in that the machine’s concept is “all about seamless integration of processes supported by digital information. This system uses digital information to design and produce the circuit breaker, support human operators during manual production steps, and provide a digital reference for quality control.”
Both Phoenix Contact and Bosch Rexroth noted they are using Industry 4.0 concepts internally to manufacture their own products. For Bosch Rexroth, this ranges from the production of industrial technologies and tools to household appliances.
Dr. Karl Tragl, president and CEO of Bosch Rexroth, said he sees initial implementation of Industry 4.0 “in applications where there is high variability among end products produced in small lot sizes.”
He added that another key component of Industry 4.0 is for control to be decentralized with intelligent components operating in each stage of the assembly system through which a part moves. In this type of assembly process, communication occurs at each step to determine what pieces to add or assembly steps to implement.
“Decentralized control makes it easier to add or change out parts as needed,” Tragl said, pointing to Bosch Rexroth’s assembly display at Hannover Fair as evidence. After featuring the same basic display for an RFID key assembly at the SPS/IPC/Drives show in the fall of 2013, Bosch Rexroth brought the same machine to Hannover Fair, but with the addition of an assembly module so that the machine could produce both the RFID key and a flashlight.
The Industry 4.0 concept of a truly connected industry should bring flexibility at “low cost or no cost,” said Tragl. He pointed out that initial target industries for the Industry 4.0 concept will be industries where you have fast changeover between the types of products being made, such as machine building, packaging and printing.
To make the Industry 4.0 initiative really work for end users, Tragl noted that industry needs agreement on “international multi-vendor standards. That’s the task of government now—to develop this standardization so the concept will work for end users.”
Siemens highlighted Industry 4.0 at its booth via the model of an automated door assembly production line for the VW Golf 7. This display, according to Siemens, illustrated the integration of “smart” industrial software with high-performance production hardware. (See video of this display below).
“The virtual and real production worlds are already converging to a large degree,” said Dr. Siegfried Russwurm, member of the managing board of Siemens AG and CEO of Siemens' Industry Sector. He noted the steps we are able to take today are not quite full-on Industry 4.0, but it is Industry 3.X.
Russwurm sees the push toward Industry 4.0 driving industry to such a large degree that he said: “On the journey towards an ever more closely networked global manufacturing world, Siemens anticipates that the market for industrial IT and software is set to grow twice as fast as the overall market for industrial automation and drives technology, at an average rate of seven percent a year.”
As for the journey toward Industry 4.0, none of it means anything in the end if it’s not accepted and adopted by end users. No one I spoke with at Hannover Fair this year had much to add in terms of end user acceptance of the Industry 4.0 concept at this point. The reason? It’s too early in the process. At this stage, industry suppliers still have to prove the concept internally before being rolling it out to end users.
Plus there’s the issue of internationally accepted standards that the suppliers will have to agree on for any concept like Industry 4.0 to move beyond internal testing by suppliers using their own and partners’ equipment.
Automation World will keep a close eye on the developments around Industry 4.0 as it moves through its early, critical stages over the next few years and will keep you posted on its progress.
This video features Siemens automotive assembly display from Hannover Fair 2014.