Industry 4.0 is the future-oriented project implemented by the German government under its High-Tech Strategy. Interestingly, the phrase "Industry 4.0" was coined in Germany. It describes the path of the fourth industrial revolution, which is being achieved primarily by means of the IT-based networking of products, production equipment and control systems. We are at the dawn of a new era.
First and foremost, Industry 4.0 is about safeguarding Germany as a business location. These new approaches offer great opportunities not only for our key industries in particular – mechanical engineering and the automotive industry – but also for the domestic IT industry.
The progressive individualization of products is increasing the complexity in production processes. This complexity will have to be overcome in the future. The challenge is achieving one-off production at the cost of series production. A strong real economy therefore both benefits and drives IT – with the combination of the two bringing an additional competitive advantage for Germany!
An "industrial revolution" always describes an era and not a specific date. The cycles are becoming shorter, but ultimately what this revolution involves is groundbreaking and long-term projects in the capital goods industry.
The dimensions of a corporate strategy compliant with Industry 4.0 include not only classic IT solutions, but also and in particular automation and production technology, as well as all control systems along the value creation chain. The interaction in the current production process must be fundamentally re-assessed, with the standardisation of interfaces, protocols and physical transmission paths playing a key role in this.
For medium-sized businesses, it is sensible to develop an implementation strategy involving small steps to avoid being completely overwhelmed by the size of the project.
Industry 4.0 is clearly relevant for MES, as these systems are dedicated directly to the production process at workshop level. Today, many workers already benefit from a high degree of integration in manufacturing, a high detection rate and a multitude of sensors that, for example, are controlled in real time using a central production control system.
Here we are talking about horizontal integration and integrated data management. As far as intelligent factory systems are concerned, the challenge now is to further intensify communication with the machines so that energy consumption and load distribution data, are included in the calculations in addition to classic machine data.
Modern systems essentially record production data automatically; manual processes are gradually being replaced with automated control systems. The "Internet of Services" will most definitely play an important role in defining future MES solutions.
Cooperation and networking are already practised today and are supported by modern ERP systems or communication platforms. This applies to both company-wide communication and the integration into cross-company production networks. In the factory, intelligent algorithms for optimising sequences according to a wide range of criteria help users to implement production schedules.
Inventory management and forecasting techniques reduce waste in everyday business. From a technical perspective, a lot of things are already possible today but, for the most part, are only partly implemented. In high-income countries in particular the pressure being placed on production is growing.
It is clear to everyone that the only way to achieve long-term success is for companies to be able to align their production flexibly and respond quickly to changes in the product range or the range demanded. However, there is still a long way to go.
As a software provider, we have to be more open, and set new or comply to industry standards. The level of data exchange and, in particular, the data volume are increasing dramatically. The number of system users is also increasing, all of which require new functions and profiles. Users must in turn think across departments and across companies and promote a cooperative way of working.
Trust in technology, whether in production technology or IT, is essential for the implementation of Industry 4.0 projects; the primary focus here is not on rationalisation but rather on delivering speed and greater output while using the same level of resources. Anyone who does not pursue this path will find themselves unable to continue manufacturing in Europe in the long term.
No medium-sized business will be able to support such a project with a "big bang" start from a financial or capacity perspective. However, many
businesses are in a good position to take small steps towards an integrated industry. A modern ERP infrastructure and integration into shopping pages and marketplaces are already a reality in a lot of cases.
The boundaries of systems today are becoming increasingly blurred. As a provider of ERP and MES systems, PSIPENTA pursues a highly integrated approach and, in the Aachen research project WInD, worked on the standardisation of interfaces for realtime production systems.
However, generally speaking we can say that systems are increasingly moving away from a simple classification according to their purpose or task, and are covering the various aspects of business and production control more and more comprehensively. The use of standards is crucial, because intelligent factory systems place the highest demands on the capability of the system components to integrate and communicate.
The retrieval of information from ongoing production processes will become increasingly mobile. This involves, control of the production technology by "smart products" that log on to the machine independently and send the information required for processing. Intelligent sensors and actuators record production data or intervene directly with the processes. Interventions or corrections by people can then also be supported by mobile systems independent of location.
Photos (top to bottom): Thinkstock