Greater manufacturing efficiency: it’s the golden egg we’re all looking for. But it’s getting increasingly hard to find. The solution could be smarter automation, which involves lots and lots of data (‘big data’) and data collection and data-driven modelling. The smart machine then uses the models to automatically adjust its own behaviour (i.e. machine learning).
Industry 4.0 is defined by Wikipedia as “the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies”. But what does that mean for you and your customers? And it isn’t really a new topic. At Omron, we’ve been working on manufacturing automation and data exchange for years.
While Industry 4.0 might still be a hot topic, what a lot of companies are saying is just a lot of hot air. Industry 4.0 is a very broad definition and means something different to everyone involved. Is it sensor networks, big data or artificial intelligence? Although all these technologies are part of Industry 4.0, it is the results that are more important. What benefits does Industry 4.0 bring? Two recent approaches will help you to see its potential benefits.
1. ‘NEAR’ factory
If you’re a producer, a ‘NEAR’ (Networked, Effective, Agile, and Responsible) factory will increase your productivity and ability to respond to changing market demands. Manufacturers are now moving from running production lines at 100% capacity to only producing what the market needs.
A networked factory has better connected machines in a manufacturing line, giving you improved control and efficiency. Your data and production line can be managed from anywhere in the world. And the system can draw on other data, such as market forecasts, for managing your production schedules.
An effective factory has a high Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE). Many production lines still struggle to exceed 50% OEE due to line stoppages etc. Smart, interconnected systems can detect potential issues to keep your production lines running longer and can schedule maintenance more efficiently.
Agile solutions can change your production quickly without significant retooling, to produce different variants or products to meet changing market demands.
Finally, producers need to be increasingly responsible in using raw materials more efficiently and in delivering the right products at the right time and in the right quantity.
Omron’s concept of ‘innovative-Automation!’ enables the NEAR factory to transform elements of Industry 4.0 into real benefits. It focuses on three principles for improving manufacturing: ‘Integration, Intelligence and Interactive’.
Integration involves increasing the speed and precision of your production process through fine-tuned technology and control systems. Every machine in the production line communicates with each other and operates seamlessly, boosting efficiency and keeping the whole line running optimally.
Interactive machines and user interfaces need to be intuitive and easy to use, even for less-skilled operators. Interfaces must give clear information about machine or system status, highlighting any issues and ideally showing how to resolve them.
Machine intelligence, specifically artificial intelligence, is at the core of Industry 4.0. To make smart decisions, a machine needs sensors that monitor its operating environment and rules on how to respond to any changes. The more data and processes you have, the ‘smarter’ the machine must be. Smarter machines can help your operators to work more effectively by flagging up potential problems so that you can address them immediately. This will keep your manufacturing lines running longer, with less downtime and higher productivity.
In manufacturing, each production line is a unique system of many different machines. Each might have multiple sensors, feeding data into a central control system or even the cloud. The challenge is how to make sense of all that data. For example, if the system detects a pressure drop in a feed line, it could potentially increase the pressure to keep the process running while sending an alert about the issue. As the system learns more about the operating conditions, it could even identify the issue and the corrective action needed.
This type of analysis and control requires highly advanced algorithms that can adapt to each individual line. These need to be installed locally to enable the machines to learn each process; determine optimal operating conditions; analyse patterns; control the system within pre-defined limits; and provide warnings when the system isn’t operating efficiently.
Smart systems like our temperature controllers are already producing some of these benefits. For example, on a water-cooled extrusion moulding machine, increasing the speed often causes temperature variations. Operators would need to make repeated valve adjustments to stabilise the quality. In contrast, our controller automatically adjusts the system to minimise temperature variations, enabling a higher production capacity whilst maintaining quality.
Although items such as sensors, the cloud and AI algorithms are all part of an Industry 4.0 system, it’s only when they’re brought together in complete, real-world solutions like that the actual benefits become clear. It’s these benefits that will drive the adoption of the fourth industrial revolution. And that’s a hot topic.