Industry 4.0. Since 1947
Industry 4.0. Since 1947.
'Industry 4.0' – for some years the term has been used mantra-like in discussions about the change in modern manufacturing processes and consumer habits demanded by this transformation. Digitisation and networking are the buzzwords on everyone's lips in this connection. The slogan of the 2016 Hanover Fair 'Integrated Industry – Discover Solutions' stands for our aspiration to tackle the challenges of Industry 4.0 with practical solutions. So the findings of a survey on last year's Hanover fair appears rather baffling. Only around a half of the German industry managers interviewed by a management consulting firm said they already used Industry 4.0 in their own enterprises or definitely planned to do so, either in the form of processes or products.
One reason for the hesitancy is probably the name itself. Following the three previous revolutions, the development of the steam engine, mass production on the conveyor belt and the computer, the term 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' would have us believe that the manufacturing world is changing overnight. At Lenze we regard this as misleading and prefer to talk about an evolution. Basically, Industry 4.0 is simply another phase in the increasing automation that has been underway for years. What we are seeing is automation being consistently advanced by digitisation, networking and the use of new communication systems. This progress allows us to satisfy the changing demands of the market and that ultimately is us ourselves.
One of these demands, for instance, is the growing individualisation of products. A car maker no longer simply offers a wide range of models, nowadays buyers can select a special detail that is only produced once for their car. The designers call it Batch size 1. The trend is even more obvious in the food industry. A good example is the staple, milk. Years ago, supermarkets perhaps stocked two sizes of carton, at most in full fat or long-life versions. Today customers can choose between different carton sizes, milk is available in various qualities from 'Discount' and 'Normal' to 'Raw' and 'Organic'. And, of course at least full fat or semi-skimmed versions, recently joined by rice or soya. All from the same producer. Do we drink more milk as a result? No. So we can say that batch sizes are getting smaller all the time, while the variance increases for the same quantity produced. If customers are then offered the choice of designing their own milk carton on the Internet, we will soon reach a batch size of one. You can easily find many other examples of shrinking batch sizes on the shelves of the supermarket of your choice.
Greater variety does not result in more milk being sold. Milk producers must therefore think about how they are going to produce at reasonable cost. Setting up a different machine for each specification would be too expensive. So the machine builder has to design a machine that can do everything.
All in one
One approach is machine modularisation. Modules are added or removed in the production process or quickly retooled via smart software. Different packaging sizes, materials, contents and much more can thus be processed, packed and palletised on a single machine. For the machine builder however, it is nothing short of a paradigm change. First priority used to be perfecting a machine to manufacture products with the greatest possible efficiency to the highest possible standard. Now flexibility is demanded, but with the same high quality. Machine builders need automation experts like Lenze more than ever before. The deployment of advanced automatic technology, supported by the latest IT and communication technologies, is essential to modern production today. Given a batch size of 1 for a product that sells for a couple of euros and a production volume that can easily top 100,000 units a day, everything stands and falls on efficient and effective production planning. We can fairly assume that plant-based controlled production planning might be up to the job, but the complexity involved would be practically impossible to grasp. So logically speaking, it makes sense if, at a lower level for instance, the product in the making can communicate with the machine and the machine with other machines involved in the process. System boundaries blur for machine builders between 'their' and downstream and upstream machines in the production process. At Lenze we use 4.0 technologies to develop intelligent technical systems for our machine builder customers, who take these very aspects into account. Yet machines must not be endlessly complex – after all, a human still has to be able to operate them. These systems enable our customers to map the individuality of products.
All for nothing without security
Digitisation and networking enable machine builders to monitor and maintain their machines even during deployment on the customer's premises. However, although technically feasible, this is not always welcomed by customers. After all, no-one is keen to share their production details with third parties. Lenze has developed a cloud solution for this situation. The machine builder is provided with all relevant information about the customer's machine summarised in the cloud. In this way he can identify faults, like fluctuating power consumption and remedy them immediately without looking into the customer's production data. As cloud solutions are vulnerable to attack by hackers, Lenze and a partner have co-developed a so-called predictive maintenance solution that is one hundred percent secure by today's standards.
Many applications that go by the name Industry 4.0 today are technical developments of industrial products and processes. They are necessary answers to changes prompted by the mega trends of our times. However one aspect, and it is not a technical one, is really new and useful. The term has brought about a change in awareness. Many machine builders have identified the means by which they can and must respond to the challenges of the market. Now as before we regard our main remit as providing customers with these means. In this spirit, our Lenze motto at this year's Hanover fair is 'Industry 4.0. Since 1947.', innovative technology and customer centricity from the first.