Andy Pye reports back on his visit to the German automation show where he discovered the progress being made across Europe on Industry 4.0.
Just back from SPS, the German automation show, it would be easy to form the opinion that the Internet of Things (otherwise known as Industry 4.0, or the IoT) is thriving. But in the UK, the future of innovation generally is being viewed with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
Industry 4.0 – the digitising of the factory and supply chain – is set to be the biggest change in manufacturing industry since the introduction of the first robots. Without doubt, integrated networks of sensors coupled with actuators, data federation, big-data analytics, and fast autonomous decision-making will change the world.
Today, there are some daunting technical problems to overcome: the proliferation of incompatible front-end device connection protocols, the provisioning and management of billions of intelligent endpoints, low-cost/low-volume data transmission options, security issues and business models.
But all these technical and business problems are solvable; certainly, German industry is well advanced and prepared. The recent SPS Drives and Automation show in Nuremberg was bulging with IoT-ready technology.
In stark contrast, and coinciding with the third and final day of SPS, an event “From Industry 4.0 to Digitising Manufacturing – an End-User Perspective” took place at the Lloyds Bank Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre on the MTC campus at Ansty Park, Coventry, aimed at explaining Industry 4.0 and its benefits for manufacturers. The impressive flagship centre was only officially opened a week earlier by Business Secretary Sajid Javid MP, and is designed to provide premium training for the next generation of engineers and technicians.
According to the organiser, manufacturers are failing to see business benefits, yet many manufacturers still don’t understand the business benefits. According to The MTC’s Dr Lina Huertas, “Many manufacturers in the UK, they say, don’t know what Industry 4.0 means, its potential impact on industry in general and their business in particular, and they don’t know how to respond to the technological implications.”
Pioneers of Industry 4.0 in the UK were joined by manufacturers from Germany – acknowledged European leaders in the development of Industry 4.0 – to share their experiences and provide advice on remaining at the forefront of business using the new technologies available.
The opening address was given by Dr Peter Ammon, the German Ambassador to the UK. A Vision and Policy session set the scene, with Martin Donnelly of BIS presenting the British Policy perspective. This was then followed by two highly informative presentations, firstly by Henning Banthien of the German organisation Platform Industrie 4.0, and then by Anne-Marie Sasson from DG_Connect, European Commission.
Platform Industie 4.0 is an innovation hub designed to provide support “for the coordinated and organised transition into the digital economy in Germany”. Banthien recognises that making digital information available for manufacturing is key in the German economy. Special attention is being paid to the small and medium enterprise (SME) community, which is seen as key to the success of the project. The demographics of the SME bedrock in Germany is somewhat different to that of the UK, in that it comprises largely family-owned businesses.
In contrast, UK SMEs are often based on start-up finance, disparate shareholdings, venture capital and susceptible to takeover at an early stage in their lives. But the SME community in the UK has an outstanding reputation for innovation, as evidenced by inventions from the hovercraft to graphene, to name just two. Despite relatively low public funding for R&D compared with other countries in the OECD group of mostly wealthy nations, the UK this year maintained its second place in the global innovation index.
Sasson put forward the European Commission’s view that every industry in Europe should have access to the latest technologies and that there should be a digital innovation hub in every region. She highlighted a key message which plots an Industry 4.0 “readiness index” on the y axis, against manufacturing’s share of GDP. Countries are divided into four groups, with Germany shining as a frontrunner, along with Ireland, Sweden and Austria. The UK falls into the “Potentialists” group, along with Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and France. Other European countries are grouped into Traditionalists and Hesitators.
Sasson’s illustration has its origins in a report by the Strategy Consultants Roland Berger, which ironically (Switzerland not being an EU member) is entitled “INDUSTRY 4.0 – The role of Switzerland within a European manufacturing revolution”. Nonetheless, it provides valuable insight into the background behind the need to move to Industry 4.0. Industry plays a central role in the economy of the European Union, accounting for 15% of value added (compared to 12% in the US). The report concludes that there is a compelling case for Europe to strengthen and develop its industry in all of its countries.
Grants to loans?
Against this backcloth, several speakers referred to their unease about the UK Government’s recently reported plans being considered by officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to convert some or all of the £600 million annual innovation budget into interest-paying loans. Business leaders fear this would damage Britain’s ability to innovate and argue that this could lead to next-generation technologies being developed abroad, where governments directly support early-stage research, rather than in the UK.
The proposals have sent a particular chill through the aerospace, automotive and pharmaceuticals industries, three of the country’s most successful and research-intensive sectors. The aerospace industry is particularly concerned about whether the changes will put the jointly funded £2bn research partnership known as the Aerospace Technology Institute in jeopardy.
Rolls-Royce, the aero-engine maker, recently warned that cutting direct support for innovation could encourage companies to shift R&D abroad. Between 2005 and 2014, Rolls-Royce directly received £335m in research and technology grant funding from the UK government, while investing £6.5bn on research and technology, capital investment and training in the UK.
Paul Everitt, head of ADS, the aerospace and defence trade body, said: “Loans for research and development are not appropriate. That kind of approach would put the UK at a significant disadvantage. We are in a global competition for R&D.”
From the UK perspective, while Dave Thomas from Siemens explained how the principles of Industry 4.0 were being used at its Congleton site to keep manufacturing jobs in Britain, an especially bright spark was provided by Keith Jackson, Chief Technology Officer of Meggitt, who presented his brainchild – the Meggitt Modular Modifiable Manufacturing (M4) project – which combines existing and future technologies to create intelligent, responsive environments, revolutionising component assembly and transforming operators’ working conditions.
The three-year Meggitt Modular Modifiable Manufacturing (M4) project aims to address the challenge of how to deal with the assembly of low volume, high value products that don’t lend themselves to automation. Cheekily, Jackson began by saying that he visited the Hanover Fair to find that the Germans had stolen the concepts behind M4 and re-branded it Industry 4.0!
Working with partners including the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Sheffield); Manufacturing Technology Centre (Coventry); Innovate UK, and IBM, M4 looks to reinvent the factories of the future with ideas and technologies, transforming a traditional factory into a responsive and efficient environment that optimises flow.
Initially designed to assemble an eBrake actuator, manufactured by the Coventry-based Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems (MABS), the programme combines smart flexible fixturing to make assembly quicker, easier and more efficient; laser projection to identify assembly steps; and data capture to instantly switch between different products.
“We use one of the smallest, lightest off-the-shelf lasers as part of an intelligent workbench, to guide operators through operations; highlighting where a component needs to be placed, verifying its orientation using machine vision, and showing where, bolts for example, need to be inserted, and using two devices allows us to work in three dimensions,” explains Jackson.
IoT at SPS
The Hirschmann Secure Remote Access Solution is a partnership between Belden and Secomea. It combines hardware and software that can be installed with minimal IT knowledge, and enables secure remote network control. It helps exploit the increased connection of devices brought on by the Industrial Internet of Things.
TE’ Connectivity’s booth featured an Innovation Pit Stop, with the central topic of Internet of Things (IoT). It featured a number of innovative technologies classified under three headings:
* Connecting the Physical – passive and active solutions to transport power, data and/or signal better than today thus enabling the infrastructure for IoT.
* Connecting Smart Objects – smart connectivity with integrated functions like sense, identify, communicate, actuate, control, etc., thus enabling the data generation required for IoT.
* Connecting the Content – enabling data use within IoT, with the goal to analyze, control, predict, prevent, trace and improve efficiency, productivity and convenience. Connecting the content could deliver services for data collection, cloud storage, traceability, uptime, predictive maintenance, etc.
“The TE Innovation PitStop at SPS IPC Drives 2015 is a platform for showcasing several top innovations for the industrial sector,” said Mark Maas, business development senior manager, TE Industrial Innovation Platforms. “The Innovation Pit Stop allows us to demonstrate and discuss functioning prototypes and concepts in an open environment, an idea generator for our visitors and TE engineers, as we co-create and learn from each other.”
Siemens exhibited comprehensive options for the electrification, automation and digitalization of industrial processes. The focus was primarily aimed at building the Digital Enterprise, whether large-scale corporations or SMEs, in which all value adding processes are digitally supported – across the entire product and plant life cycle. “We realised the growth potential offered by digitalization in the discrete production and process industries at a very early stage, and with the Digital Enterprise portfolio have consistently aligned our product offering towards this objective,” said Klaus Helmrich, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, speaking at SPS IPC Drives 2015. New products on show included MindSphere – Siemens Cloud for Industry, a connector box for secure capture and transmission of machine and plant data to the cloud.