Jonathan Newell travels to Stuttgart to meet with Bosch and find out what Industry 4.0 really means for manufacturing.
There’s a danger with buzzwords that they can be interpreted as the jargon of a secret society, the domain of the most powerful or a nebulous concept that is designed to obscure a reality that may offer less than the fanfares would otherwise suggest.
And it would have been easy to get that impression at the Hannover Messe event earlier this year, where just by standing in one place and rotating through 360 degrees, it was possible to see not only the term “Industry 4.0”, but also “Connected Industry”, “Cognitive IoT” and “Industry Infomatics” emblazoned across company stands, all of which were variations on a single theme with each company hoping for its phrase to become the de facto.
So to cut through the jargon and remove some of the mist created by the multi-national corporates all jockeying for position, I spent some time with Bosch, the company credited with heading up the working group on its implementation of Industry 4.0 just four years ago.
Since then, Bosch has been promoting it, implementing it and using it in earnest both at its own plants and across its supply chain to prove the concept can be turned into a beneficial reality and not just exist as the latest buzzword in manufacturing industry.
Keeping people in control
That I4.0 is a reality which is simple to implement by any manufacturing or logistics company was the message put forward by Dr Stefan Assmann, Senior Vice President of the Connected Industry Innovation Cluster at Bosch, at Hannover Messe. He described Industry 4.0 as an approach to manufacturing and distribution that employs Internet of Things (IoT) technology to build a connected and intelligent infrastructure using sensors and software with people remaining very much at the centre of operations.
Assmann explained that connected sensors provide the mechanism by which engineers, operators, managers, maintenance staff, purchasers and logistics controllers can make decisions that improve business effectiveness, reduce equipment downtime and improve overall productivity.
Keeping it simple
To implement Industry 4.0 doesn’t need massive investment in new machinery, equipment or technology, according to Assmann. He demonstrated this with a connected robot made from a child’s construction kit. Attaching a sensor to it and measuring the length of stroke of the actuator arm could be used to measure process parameter drift and raise an alert when it reaches an alarm limit. A sensor and software is all it takes to start off on the path to Industry 4.0.
Sensor technology is also something which Bosch has done in one usage case to reduce spoilage within the distribution environment. The pharmaceutical industry suffers from significant levels of product spoilage within the distribution chain and by using sensors in containers to measure position using GPS, elapsed time and temperature and transmitting this information to a cloud repository managed by Bosch which can be analysed by the distribution company, a clearer picture can be obtained of the distribution environment, its limitations and where improvements can be made. By actively tracking and monitoring perishable goods in this way, despatch and fleet management decisions can be made in real time to prevent product spoilage. This process uses existing containers, ships, trains and road haulage companies. The only difference is the use of sensors and the processing and analysis of the information in the cloud so it is simple and relatively inexpensive to implement.
Apart from distribution chain management and manufacturing process quality control improvements, Bosch is also using connected sensors to enable operators to work in conjunction with robots where the automated machinery has “awareness” of the operator.
This collaboration of man and machine relies on the Bosch APAS Assistant product, an industrial robot fitted with a sensor skin which detects the proximity of a worker. The operator can therefore work safely within the working field of the robot, since the arm slows down when it detects proximity and comes to a complete halt when it detects close proximity. The robot arm automatically restarts its cycle when the obstruction is cleared.
Industry 4.0 in action
Bosch has adopted the Industry 4.0 approach at 250 of its locations, one of which is the Feuerbech manufacturing plant near Stuttgart, where I went to see Industry 4.0 in action. The Common Rail Diesel Pump manufacturing line uses a combination of sensor technology, RFID tagging of equipment, APAS and smart mobile computing to create a smart maintenance regime which has so far resulted in a 5% reduction in downtime and a 2% increase in manufacturing output.
Tags on each machine in the production facility can be scanned by maintenance engineers or production management to gain access to a complete history of the equipment’s availability as well as its current performance and planned maintenance outages which have been scheduled.
With complete transparency of information on any equipment, production plans can be instantly managed or adjusted to optimise output based on full historic information and accurate predictions of utilisation.
This level of transparency is extended throughout the facility with production and maintenance dashboards at process workstations and in support offices.
Wider deployment of Industry 4.0
At Bosch’s recently built Centre for Research and Advanced Engineering at Renningen, I met with Dr Werner Struth, the board member responsible for Industrial Technology and the mastermind behind the company’s thrust into Industry 4.0.
When asked what he viewed as the definition of Industry 4.0, he told me, “It’s a platform for development, a reference architecture so that legacy equipment can talk to each other and something which is evolutionary as it is constantly in development to establish new connections.”
The building of communication bridges between legacy equipment is an essential element of the success of Industry 4.0 and for enabling companies with less financial weight to gain the benefits that the platform offers. For Struth, this is paramount for Industry 4.0’s future. “The SME base is important in the deployment model because such companies represent the all important supply base without which the larger companies can’t operate,” he said.
As part of the platform’s evolution, there is still much to be done, particularly around improvements to the communications network infrastructure and in terms of security regarding data usage, architecture and encryption. For fulfilling its security objectives, Bosch bought embedded security specialist company, Escrypt which now operates as part of the Bosch ETAS subsidiary.
Buzzword or reality
There is just one Industry 4.0 platform and it comprises many elements as well as relying on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Without the IIoT, Industry 4.0 couldn’t happen but they’re not synonymous concepts.
Using the connectivity and building processing capability into sensors at the edge of the industrial network, a distributed brain emerges that promises to improve efficiencies, increase productivity, reduce down time and take costs out of product manufacturing. Far from being a buzzword designed to confuse, Industry 4.0 is real, it’s happening now and it’s accessible to all.