The vision of Industry 4.0 presents a utopia where all parts of an operation are interlinked and coexist and where efficiencies, cost reductions and productivity increases can be achieved through integrated automation.
What does this really mean and how do we start along the road to implementing the goals of Industry 4.0 and the smart factory?
These are questions Mitsubishi Electric has sought to answer, building on more than 35 years’ experience of automating factories in the UK and by embracing the smart factory and Industry 4.0 concepts.
Chris Evans, Mitsubishi Electric Marketing & Operations Group Manager, said: “There is so much terminology batted around when we start to consider Industry 4.0 that it can lead to a cloud of confusion. On one level we are looking at the convergence of business systems with the physical plant control but is this really new? Does this really move us on from where we are today?
“The real impetus behind Industry 4.0 comes not just from the link between the plant and the enterprise but once we have this link, not only can we have the means to improve performance but also to measure actual performance against an ideal model — the cyber physical system if you will.”
It is this ability for in depth analysis and continuous improvement that Evans says defines the true spirit of Industry 4.0 — but how do we get there? Are the UK’s manufacturing plants ready to be smart factories?
“If we built a brand new plant from the ground up on a greenfield site, we could build a smart factory that would embody all the goals of Industry 4.0, all using technologies that are readily available today. However the challenge with many manufacturing plants is that their automation systems have evolved over many years, resulting in disparate automation platforms, poor network infrastructure, no data management strategy and very little genuine knowledge of how to get the relevant information out.”
So how does a manufacturer start out on the road to digitalisation? According to Evans, it’s all about the planning.
Highlighting what can be achieved, Mitsubishi Electric has undertaken smart factory implementations at its own manufacturing facilities. As an example, at its Kani Works switchgear production facility, a smart factory upgrade drove a significant increase in productivity and operating rate and a large reduction in the number of stages in the manufacturing process.
By redesigning the production line into a more compact manufacturing cell, utilising robotics and vision as well as conventional automation control, huge savings were made in the occupied floor space — some 85% reduction — and this is particularly significant, as in the majority of manufacturing plants space is at a premium.
Kani Works is a true example of a smart factory embracing the principles of Industry 4.0 and utilising cyber physical modelling to achieve continuous improvement. Defining the key features of Industry 4.0, looking at the importance of areas such as communications, cyber physical systems, cyber security, new computing models such as edge computing and cloud computing and standards such as OPC UA and the forthcoming RAMI4.0 and IIRA architecture models.
The white paper also lays out the key steps on the road to digitalisation, concluding that while there are undoubtedly challenges to be overcome, it is quite possible to convert an ageing plant into a smart factory using today’s technologies through correct planning and by taking a structured approach.