Digitalisation is the key to networked, flexible production of the future. The implementation of Industry 4.0 is an ongoing process that involves challenges, but also offers great potential for the automation industry.
A fundamental transition is taking place in the world of production. The real world and virtual reality continue to merge; modern information and communications technologies are being combined with traditional industrial processes, thereby changing the various areas of production.
Industrial digitalisation’s key elements are the individual components, which communicate with each other within the overall system and can control and regulate themselves. Employees’ tasks are also changing from merely operating machines to solving complex problems and improving processes. Experts are discussing these developments under “Industry 4.0”.
Industry 4.0 Describes The Fundamental Change
In high-wage countries, Industry 4.0 provides an opportunity for manufacturing companies to remain competitive globally.
“We are talking here about the transformation of industrial manufacture into a fully networked, flexible production system. To remain competitive, we must take the initiative with our characteristic spirit of inventiveness and give shape to this new development”, said Professor Peter Post, Wissenschaftsrat, and head of Corporate Research and Technology of Festo AG & Co. KG.
“The topics we will have to focus on in the future are communication as well as standardisation, safety, security and individualisation, but even more so productivity and quality. Also, aspects of new working worlds and qualification will become more and more important,” he continued.
The Factory Of The Future
Besides mass production which will continue to be important, another trend in industrial production is the individualisation of products; more flexible production facilities will be needed.
Industry 4.0 provides new possibilities in this respect. By using components that are independently networked and can configure themselves, they can therefore ‘plug and produce’, allowing production facilities to meet the growing requirements.
Networked Production Architecture Of The Future
A strong focus will be on unified data formats and standards for efficient engineering processes. Entire production plants will be digitally networked and comprise:
- Intelligent components with plug-and-produce capabilities
- Virtual emulation of the plant to enable automatic startup and reconfiguration
- Rapid balancing of capacity utilisation in a production network
- Automatic adaptation of production lines to ordering capacities through simple, rapid extension or reduction of the manufacturing facilities
- Simple compensation for defective production units
This will influence both production processes, and humans with respect to:
- Control of production becoming more intelligent and adaptable
- Automatic start-up and reconfiguration of facilities
- Customer-specific production
- Components with plug-andproduce capability facilitating exchange of defective production units and reuse of individual units for new products
- Humans and technology will cooperate to an increasing extent
On The Way Towards Cyber-Physical Systems
One of the visions relating to Industry 4.0 is the ability to plug-and-produce. Similar to USB interfaces on computer systems, individual components are expected to log into the production facility themselves in the factory of the future.
Yet the vision goes a step further. The aim is to achieve local intelligence in the system, i.e. the components take over the master computer’s tasks themselves. For example, one station could tell the next to place a lid on containers after filling.
Companies like Festo are based on proven existing components and develop them consistently. Farsighted technological adaptations are enabling the minimally invasive transformation of existing production facilities on the way in the factory of the future.
In general, as a vision and innovation for the production of the future, clearly identifiable physical objects will contain intelligent communication abilities and thus offer new value added services or even allow new business models.
Standardisation & It In Industry 4.0
Standardised interfaces for the communication and connection of intelligent components are essential. Apart from the standards for technical communication, the question is about description languages for simplifying the continuous engineering processes.
Proprietary solutions or many individual singular solution ideas are not broadly sustainable. OPC UA and AutomationML, for example, are steps towards Industry 4.0, but need to be further developed.
Information technology will play an increasingly significant role in future production—both for the operation and control of production plants, and for the collation and evaluation of machinery data and information on energy consumption that are relevant to servicing.
The increasing possibilities of data acquisition and processing in real-time are opening up new opportunities in terms of factory control and ability to react. New applications are arising, for example anticipatory servicing.
In this process, the virtual world of IT meets the real world of the shop floor: IT oversees the production network up to the level of machine control and provides the necessary infrastructure, e.g. databases, servers and development platforms.
The software required for the operation of the machines is a core competence of the machinery producers. However, it is not always possible to draw a sharp distinction between these areas of competence: interdisciplinary cooperation and mutual understanding of each other’s environments is becoming more and more important.
In addition, IT topics are becoming an integral part of specifications in the purchase of plant and machinery. Standardised IT interfaces and norms are playing a decisive role above all in the networking of production plants.
Industry 4.0—Always A Finger On The Pulse Thanks To Complete Networking
Many concepts from the past have been overtaken by the fourth industrial revolution: business models, partnerships, customer interfaces, value chains, and even the traditional pyramid structure of the automation environment—all are undergoing huge change. More communication from controller to controller or subsystem to subsystem, and horizontal as well as vertical connectivity with a single, uniform information model, including the cloud; these are the hallmarks of a fourth industrial revolution—Industry 4.0.
The traditional, inflexible automation pyramid will cease to exist in the foreseeable future.
In principle, Industry 4.0 shows the vision of fully networked, adaptive production. This requires that the components themselves become more intelligent and acquire additional functions (embedded functions) so that they can be networked with each other.
Looking at the situation today, many industry components already provide the necessary hardware and software requirements, even if they are currently island solutions that are not yet networked on a larger scale.
The aim of Industry 4.0 is to combine all these individual solutions into an overall networked system. Standards, norms and interfaces used in new IT architectures play an important role here—they are currently being developed in various research projects and networks.
The power of Industry 4.0 impacts and changes can be trained with CP (cyber-physical) factories offered to schools, universities and professionals in industry. Already, several successful reference factories can be observed in Germany.