Much noise has been made about Industry 4.0 and the global movement towards connected factories, but the reality is that here in the UK, things are moving a lot slower – and rightly so.
For drives and controls expert Bosch Rexroth, the fourth industrial revolution isn’t actually a revolution at all, but rather a period of logical and essential evolution- an evolution doesn’t happen overnight.
The concept of Industry 4.0 was first coined in Germany in 2010, with the manufacturing superpower leading from the helm with the implementation of digitised factories, connected plant and more importantly, a connected supply chain. Here in the UK, progress is slower, with most successful penetration points to date being the result of a UK subsidiary pushed towards digitisation by their German or Japanese based head offices.
Many surveys and studies have revealed that there is a reluctance and even a suspicion towards implementation of data-driven facilities, and a lack of education amongst stakeholders has been identified as one hindrance to progress.
The situation right now
Whilst the ‘factory of the future’ has gained much media attention in recent years, this has largely caused a sense of panic for many facilities who think they need to completely digitise their facility overnight – a task which would be near impossible for even the most well-resourced business.
Media hype aside, the situation right now in the UK is that smart manufacturing, connected equipment, data-driven facility management and a connected supply chain are all on the horizon. Evolution has started, and you must factor it in to your growth strategy in order to maintain your market position.
That said, industry leaders like Bosch Rexroth are promoting a steady, strategic, step-by-step approach to fully connecting a facility. A process which Rexroth itself has undertaken and successfully completed. The first stage to this strategy is to convince reluctant stakeholders to engage with the possibilities of Industry 4.0 in a process of education and information sharing.
Let’s look at five areas of buy-in which many facilities could focus on during this early, but critical, stakeholder engagement phase:
Understand that evolution is possible, even for ageing manufacturing environments
The notion that a process facility is too large or too old to evolve in favour of digitisation is unfortunately a common one and is a mindset which must be challenged if stakeholders are to engage with and support industrial connectivity.
Whether a facility chooses to take a granular approach to Industry 4.0 implementation, or prefers the idea of a complete digital switchover, it is important to remember that digital technologies are highly scalable and can match even the largest, most complex of production environments.
Even legacy machinery equipment which at first glance, doesn’t lend itself to machine communication and data sharing can often be bought inline too, with a variety of technologies on the market designed to support the digitisation of ageing infrastructure. For many reluctant stakeholders, this offers reassurance over CAPEX investments in the early stages of any Industry 4.0 strategy.
Customer and supply chain demands will require connectivity
The gold standard in Industry 4.0 is not that of a digitised factory, but of a digitised supply chain; something which the automotive industry in particular is keen to adopt. It has been suggested by many early adopters that before long, the ability to ‘plug in’ to an Industry 4.0 ready supply chain will become a “qualifier to compete”, and those who are unable to connect in this way will face losing out on valuable customer contracts.
A connected supply chain maximises efficiencies and profit for the entire route to market and is the only viable way industry will be able to meet the demands of the more convenience-led, digitally-minded customer profile of the future.
Working within a fully automated supply chain allows suppliers and logistics providers to view data gathered and analysed at plant level so that they can adjust their performance in accordance with real-time production requirements. Further downstream, there could be additional automated communication with delivery providers and the customer, generating lean efficiencies for OEMs.
Failing to show your commitment to this process of evolution will, in the medium-to-longer term, damage supply chain relationships and leave you unable to service the demands of connected customer demanding the ultimate in efficiency and convenience.
Data-driven maintenance and process system health
At plant level, real-time gathering and processing of data from sensors not only enables production quality checks at the point of manufacture and economical batch size reduction, but also facilitates accurate machine and system health checks and continuous monitoring.
With instant, and even remote, access to this information, repairs and maintenance can be predicted and scheduled in to natural production breaks, to prevent costly plant downtime or worse, unplanned system failure.
A slow and strategic approach will maintain outputs and deliver optimised results
The idea of delivering a complete digital overhaul of a process facility is simply unreasonable and would most likely require a considerable period of system shutdown to initiate; a cost and inconvenience which most facilities simply couldn’t offset.
A more successful approach is a slow and highly strategic step-by-step process, which enables businesses enough time to make well-researched and well-considered decisions. Remember, this is evolution, not revolution – a message which must be made clear when vying for stakeholder buy-in.
Identifying the correct connectivity implementation partners, and carefully assessing each area of the process line to outline where efficiencies could be realised and which machinery holds the largest potential ROI are time consuming but completely vital tasks which shouldn’t be rushed.
Sensors are a sensible start for gathering data and identifying opportunities for improvement
Contrary to what much of the media hype might have us believe, the right place to start your journey towards connectivity is in fact data gathering via sensors, which are fitted onto a cell, machine or tool. These sensors are connected to software which, once correctly installed, can measure variables such as temperature, pressure, vibration and power consumption.
It is important to work with a leading provider to assess, install and help you to interpret the process data you gather, in order to shape your ongoing digitisation strategy.
Once process data gathering is in place, businesses can choose to enhance the capabilities of their in-situ sensors, through the integration of ‘higher-level systems’ which will facilitate the collation and display of data in real-time. This can lift your connectivity implementation from a simple ‘plug and play’ function to something which is more integral to the business’s overall infrastructure and processes.
The benefits of starting with data collection and interpretation is clear. It provides businesses with their first taste of a connected environment, and an inside view to the machines they rely on daily, it also enables decision makers and strategy facilitators to validate their connectivity plans before requesting additional CAPEX or larger scale evolutionary improvements.
Engaging with stakeholders on the evolution of a process facility towards Industry 4.0 can be daunting, but make no mistake, failure to move in favour of connectivity will result in loss of revenue and ultimately reduced market share. Early adoption and a slow, strategic, step-by-step approach, under the guidance of a class-leading industrial connectivity specialist, is a proven recipe for success. For more information on sensors and other Industry 4.0 technologies, visit the new Bosch Rexroth blog called 7.51 at