German Companies Turn Industrie 4.0 Into Reality

By Rajesh Nath(Managing Director, VDMA India):

The term `Industrie 4.0’ was first presented to the general public at the Hannover Messe 2011. Industrie 4.0 refers to a fourth industrial revolution (following water/steam power, mass production, and automation through IT and robotics) and introduces the concept of `cyber-physical systems’ to differentiate this new evolutionary phase from the electronic automation that has gone before.
Digitization and networking are at the heart of this development. The digital model and the real-life work place are to match continuously and without any disruption, within the company in the form of networked production (vertical integration), and beyond corporate boundaries (horizontal value chain networks), in real time. The concept is multifaceted as it encompasses a great variety of different solutions and technologies, making it highly complex. In addition, it makes a difference whether a company is itself applying this technology or offering it – or both. And its position in the value chain network is also of great importance.
Industrie 4.0 cannot be bought as a full-fledged concept, there is no blue print. Every company needs to develop its own strategy for its digitization. Also, Industrie 4.0 is not an end in itself, but stands and falls with its economic benefit. Many technologies for Industrie 4.0 solutions are already available. The benefits, however, can only be reaped if these technologies are combined in an intelligent manner. ButIndustrie 4.0 is about much more than technology. The aspects relating to people and organization play an equally important role.
In addition to technologies (electrification, assembly lines), organizational aspects (division of labor – Taylorism, mass production) were of crucial importance in the second industrial revolution as well. And without free trade, availability of capital, expansion of technical education and social legislation, Industrie 2.0 would not have been successful. The lively debate about new business models and disruptive innovations shows that even today, focusing on technical aspects alone is not effective.
The topic of Industrie 4.0 has made its mark on the German mechanical and plant engineering sector. This is obvious from the result of a recent analysis, the Industrie 4.0 Readiness Check, commissioned by the IMPULS Foundation of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA). As is always the case with new technologies, the pace of implementation is different from company to company, but the German mechanical and plant engineering sector in general is already well-positioned. After an initial phase of searching for information and orientation, the focus is now on introduction and implementation. So far, the projects and application examples mainly concentrated on a company’s own production and on refining its own products.
The horizontal value chain, i.e. networking across company boundaries, is the supreme discipline and a major task. To enable cross-company data exchange, it will be necessary to develop new forms of cooperation and to clarify questions of data protection and legal certainty as well as know-how protection. It still remains unclear which digital platforms will be used to cooperate with other companies and customers and what form they will take.
Mechanical and plant engineering can play different roles here. It is currently not possible to predict how companies will develop their digital business models. Co-operations with start-ups or software companies can unlock new perspectives and approaches. But the framework conditions also need to be right. The infrastructure required for digital networking must be available.
Another important aspect is education and training. When it comes to technology engineering, the strengths and abilities of the people have to be tapped in order to achieve optimal interaction between technology and people. There is no universal solution, but it is rather the application scenarios that play a decisive role.
German mechanical engineering companies are turning the vision of Industrie 4.0 into reality – with innovative ideas and technologies that help Germany to position itself as a lead supplier and a lead market of Industrie 4.0 in global competition. By using Industrie 4.0 technologies, companies can rise to the global challenges of increasing customer requirements and volatile market developments. When products and processes are interconnected, and data are available in real time and are transparent, the foundation for decentralized production control is laid. This allows greater flexibility in production and thus increases competitiveness.
Through the interconnection of intelligent measurement technologies in production, data becomes available which together with automation solutions can be used for self-optimisation, self-configuration and self-diagnostics. In this way, the state of machines can be continuously captured and monitored from anywhere in the world. Thus, the conditions for predictive maintenance and services are created. That everything is interconnected is both a blessing and a curse. To make use of the benefits for production, security aspects must be considered with the planning and operation of production facilities. Especially relevant is the security of data in a company and in our dealings with it.
The German mechanical engineering industry has a key function in the context of Industrie 4.0. As the backbone of German industry, it is a guarantee for growth and prosperity in our society. Almost one million people are involved in producing the future, day after day. Given this position – and the sector‘s innovation and market leadership in many areas – the German mechanical engineering industry has an obligation to shape new developments in industrial production. Industrie 4.0 is, without doubt, one of these new developments.
With the fourth industrial revolution, information technology and Internet technologies are integrated little by little into products and factories. The virtual world of IT draws nearer to the real world of production. The most significant effects are greater flexibility and customisation in manufacturing, improved resource efficiency and cost savings as well as new business models. Industrie 4.0 is thus not a parallel world, but rather an important trajectory on the way to the future of production. Industrie 4.0 is a topic for all companies – certainly for small and medium-sized companies. It is against this backdrop that VDMA established the “VDMA Industrie 4.0 Forum”.
The forum comprises an interdisciplinary team of VDMA experts, who view themselves as partners of companies and service providers. Together with VDMA members, the key action fields of research, norms and standards, IT security, production and business models, legal frameworks and employee qualification are advanced and the sharing of information andexperienceis stepped up. As a practical example, VDMA Food Processing and Packaging Machinery Association recently demonstrated the possibility to realize the vision of Industry 4.0 at the Interpack Fair in Duesseldorf. VDMA, as the client, and ITQ GmbH, as the idea generating and project-oriented company, have implemented the smart4i demonstrator. In collaboration with partners from industry, science and research, ideas and solutions for tomorrow’s machines were presented in detail in the VDMA Technology Lounge.
The smart4i demonstrator shows how the customer can individualize a Powerbank on the Internet via smartphone or tablet PC. The configuration options include colour selection of the Powerbank, its accessories (with or without USB cable) as well as a personalized text for labelling both the Powerbank and the packaging. The customer sends the order to the central order management system of the demonstrator and from there it is passed on to its sequence control. With this direct route from the customer to the shop floor the order can be processed much faster.
The demonstrator consists of several modules or stations. The central element is an intelligent transport system operating according to the principle of the linear drive. Its shuttles are individually controllable. Carriers for different blisters as well as for the Powerbanksare mounted on these. Depending on the order, the transport system carries the shuttles to different modules. The blister module separates the appropriate blisters depending on the order (with or without a cable) and places them in the corresponding carrier of the shuttle. The transport system then carries them either to the cable module for inserting a USB cable or directly to the laser module. At the same time, the Powerbank module uses an articulated robot with its vacuum gripper to select a Powerbank in the chosen colour and place it on a shuttle which then takes it to the laser module. Here, a worker takes the Powerbank as a “Cyber-Physical-System” and places it in the laser station for engraving the personalized text as well as a data matrix code. The operator then places the printed Powerbank in the blister pack, which is also present at the station. Once the blister is completely filled, the shuttle moves to the lid module which places a cardboard cover on the blister. From there it is transported to the sealing station. The sealed and finished packaging travels on to the output module.
It should be emphasized that it took ITQ only a few weeks to introduce a nearly 40-member student team of five universities to the latest engineering methods and tools. From different locations in Germany and Gran Canary these teams conceived and realized the smart4i demonstrator using nothing but standard components. All modules were completely simulated during the development phase and tested with a virtual control run. The subsequent implementation and commissioning was therefore extremely short. The students also proved how efficiently complex tasks in virtual teams can be solved across national borders, and what modern training or the new way of working in the virtual world can look like where Industrie 4.0 is concerned.