Creating the digital transformation
by Dr. Michael Schnick, Klipphausen, Volker Krink, Finsterwalde, Dr.-Ing. Konstantin Kernschmidt, Igor Mikulina, Matthäus Mikulina, Bad Wörishofen
Everyone is talking about digitalization: people, machines, logistics and products are to be intelligently networked with each other. So that small and medium-sized companies can also benefit from these trends, machine manufacturers are in demand. By working together across manufacturers, they can offer holistic solutions that enable the digitalization of production and provide the manufacturing operator with immediately tangible added value.
The mid-sized sector on the way to “Industry 4.0”
The digitalisation of production is a current mega trend. On the one hand, it meets the requirements of market dynamics, for example the increase in product variants with simultaneously decreasing batch sizes and higher production flexibility (market pull). On the other hand, it is being driven forward by the new possibilities offered by computer and network technology, data processing and artificial intelligence (Technology Push). For producers, the 4th Industrial Revolution holds out the prospect of significant productivity increases with simultaneously increasing production complexity. In the future, machine and plant manufacturers want to benefit from new differentiating features, intensified customer loyalty and the securing and expansion of after-sales and digital services.
“Industry 4.0” goes well beyond the third industrial revolution, automation through computer technologies, also known as “Automation 3.0”. The basic idea is that the information and data do not remain in a kind of “data silo” on the machine, but are made available to all hardware and software in the corporate network. In contrast to automation, the sensor data are therefore not only used at the machine or plant where this information is generated, but also enable new functions and added value at other machine systems, at or through company software and at automation levels above the fieldbus and control (PLC) level. It is therefore essential that all machines can communicate safely and seamlessly with each other. In future, this communication interface and the services that build on it will form an important field of properties for product differentiation in addition to the technical unique selling points. At the same time, the communication interfaces are a prerequisite for finding an optimum of production processes for the current boundary conditions in the digital model, the so-called “digital twin”, and transferring this to the control system of the “Smart Factory”.
The “Smart Factory” in medium-sized businesses
The digital transformation of medium-sized manufacturing companies to so-called “smart factories” has many facets. Especially because the world of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is so diverse, the machines, logistics systems, production processes and software systems used vary from factory to factory. The basis of the “Smart Factory” are the so-called “assets”, which are to be networked with each other. These can be machines, devices or components in the factory, for example. However, other areas of the company, such as building control or access control, or processes outside the company, for example suppliers, can also be included.
The goal is to use digitization and networking to increase important competitive factors such as flexibility, adherence to delivery dates, quality or customer satisfaction and to enable new, innovative business models.
Create conditions for the “Smart Factory”
Before the advantages of a “Smart Factory” can be used, all machines in the factory must be computerized and networked. In most cases, modern machines already have a digital control system (for example, programmable logic controllers (PLC), computer numerical controls (CNC)) that reads the sensor data and controls the actuators. However, many companies also use machines that are decades old and still perform well. Such machines need to be modernized with suitable retrofit solutions so that at least basic data is available in digital form.
In order to be able to use the data of all machines and equipment in a “Smart Factory”, they must have suitable connectivity (connection possibility). Fieldbus systems for production control are classically used in automation technology today. These are used, for example, to control the production process or coordinate the interaction of several machines. However, the disadvantages of many of these bus systems for the “Smart Factory” are their closed architecture, the lack of interoperability of different systems (interoperability = possibility of working together seamlessly) and the capacity limitations for the enormously growing volume of data. For a “Smart Factory”, open interfaces, for example OPC UA, must therefore be used on the machines and systems. If the existing control systems are not to be adapted or do not have the required computing power, it is recommended to use external gateways (switching devices in computer networks) with corresponding protocol adapters, which read the control data, process them into relevant information and make it available to the “Smart Factory”. With some hardware gateway solutions available on the market, however, it should be noted that these read out the sensor data but then forward it to their own cloud and make it available to the customer. Since this cloud is not in the hands of the customer, but in those of the gateway provider, such a solution leads to an undesired dependence on the cloud and significantly limits flexibility.
See the current, understand the past, predict the future
Once these prerequisites have been created in the company, the first added value is already apparent in the digital image of the production process, which is always up-to-date. This new perspective provides a transparent picture of causes and their effects. Compared to individual solutions, the decisive factor here is that visibility and transparency encompasses all digitally connected machines. For example, the factory operator can see the upcoming maintenance dates of all his machines at a glance. The previously necessary consolidation of individual data and manual management are thus eliminated. Skilful planning and consolidation of maintenance can avoid unnecessary production downtimes.
If, in the next step, additional intelligence is added to the system to enable it to analyze production and make reliable forecasts, considerable efficiency gains can be achieved. Companies are thus able to make decisions in good time or initiate necessary reaction measures at an early stage. For example, current consumption can be used to determine the necessary time for a gas delivery, or the end customer can be informed at an early stage of a delay in his components due to a production problem.
The last step describes the future vision of a “Smart Factory” with self-organizing production resources that support production control as assistance systems and can react to changing boundary conditions. Once the conditions described here have been created, a certain degree of autonomy in production can already be implemented today. Depending on machine complexity and availability, for example, a repair can be automatically requested in the event of a machine failure, the production process can be shifted to other machines, and a change in the production sequence can be suggested or made directly.
Thus, an intelligent, cross-manufacturer networking of production offers a transparency that has not existed up to now and thus forms the basis for efficient production, saving resources and controlling the company. But most importantly: This enables SMEs to secure their future competitiveness despite decreasing batch sizes and increasing international competition.
Application example plasma cutting machine
In order to be able to integrate new machines directly into a “Smart Factory” without great effort in the future, their connectivity and digital data availability are an essential basic requirement. This is illustrated below using the example of a plasma cutting machine, and application advantages and added value of additional digital services are described.
Plasma cutting machines, in conjunction with a CNC flame cutting machine and appropriate extraction systems, allow the cutting of metals in the sheet thickness range from 0.5 mm to 160 mm. Modern plasma cutting machines stand for high cutting speeds and a cut almost free of post-processing. In addition to the costs of the plasma system and the wear parts, the cut quality and cutting speed are conventional product differentiators. In the plasma cutting machines of the new “Q-Series” these are considerably extended by digital property fields.
For example, in the new “Q 3000”, the machine as well as the gas box and the torch connection unit are equipped with microcontrollers that recognize each other and provide process and status key figures for central control. This uses the data in a model for internal analyses and stores the data in a database. Among other things, the control system calculates the remaining service life of electrical components and the plasma system, adds up the electricity and gas consumption and can draw conclusions about possible operating errors. The information is either passed on to the CNC machine (to a lesser extent) via the “EtherCAT” field bus system or can be retrieved from the network via Ethernet. Three communication levels have been designed for this purpose.
The operator interface aims to support the machine operator. The information is provided by a web application, which can be called up or made visible using a web browser via various end devices, for example tablet, personal computer or mobile phone. Among other things, parameter sets are assigned to different cutting tasks and the wear parts to be fitted for this purpose are clearly named and visualized. The web application also stores the operating documents and videos for troubleshooting as well as maintenance and operating instructions and links them to error messages from the machine. The electricity and gas consumption can be tracked by a calendar function.
The information can still be made available to the machine network. There, for example, information on the maintenance status and remaining service life of the CNC flame cutting machine can be integrated into the predictive maintenance functions of the entire system. On the other hand, status data of the machine can be used directly to control other machines, for example extraction machines or ventilation systems to reduce electricity and heating costs. Finally, information on electricity and gas consumption can be clearly assigned to cost centers or products, enabling more precise monitoring of machine costs (total cost of ownership) and product-related manufacturing costs.
Finally, a router integrated in the machine and with the express consent of the system operator, a connection can be established with the customer service department of the machine manufacturer. This can be done online and without additional travel costs:
- to analyze application problems occurring up to the internal communication of the plasma cutting system and to make adjustments,
- to update the software status, e.g. to install new help videos and tutorials or parameter adjustments to extend the service life of wearing parts with software updates.
“Industry 4.0” – from the middle class for the middle class
“Industry 4.0” offers considerable opportunities, especially for medium-sized companies, through cross-manufacturer cooperation, even in global competition. Nevertheless, 80% of all SMEs in Europe have not yet taken comprehensive steps to promote networking in their own production or that of their products. This is mainly due to the fear of high costs, dependence on one supplier and a lack of capacity to deal with the topic in detail. In addition, many SMEs do not have a specified implementation strategy and are in danger of losing touch in the international digitisation race.
The Industry Business Network 4.0 e. V. was founded in 2016 to support SMEs in the digitization of their products and production and to jointly develop cross-vendor solutions with tangible added value for customers. In addition to medium-sized manufacturers from the mechanical and plant engineering sector, the founding members include TÜV Süd and the Fraunhofer IGCV, who make their expertise and advice available to the members. Within the association, numerous technology-leading machine manufacturers, service providers and users work on developing products for “Industry 4.0” and testing them on real reference systems in technology centres and in production. With the “IndustryFusion” initiative launched for this purpose, the association is making open, cross-vendor and seamless networking – in other words, the core idea of “Industry 4.0” – a reality. Based on a manufacturer-independent open-source networking solution for “smart factories”, “IndustryFusion” enables a seamless connection of machine, factory and, if necessary, cloud platforms. The simplicity of implementation is a central component of the solution and thus enables SMEs in particular to take advantage of the benefits of a broad “Industry 4.0” ecosystem.
The first important milestone was presented at the “EuroBlech” 2018 trade fair in Hanover. True to the trade fair motto “At the pulse of digitalization”, more than 20 different machines and devices from various manufacturers were networked together across several trade fair stands and their information, for example regarding machine status, energy consumption and maintenance, was seamlessly exchanged and transparently presented to visitors. At the association’s headquarters in Bad Wörishofen, Bavaria, the first permanent reference system of the association was then put into operation at the “Fertigung 4.0” trade congress, which is constantly being further developed in the sense of a living demonstrator. The association is currently building further reference plants with different machine and software constellations at various locations in Europe. The resulting network can be used by members, but also by interested companies, to inform themselves about the progress and to actively participate in an implementation of “Industry 4.0” from small and medium-sized businesses for small and medium-sized businesses.
In order to demonstrate the efficiency and sustainability of open manufacturing networking in real production, the association is also implementing its solution in a reference project at a very innovative Swiss steel trader with six production sites by the end of 2020. The special innovation factor of the project lies in the cooperation of all the machine manufacturers involved, IT experts from the open source sector, providers of software solutions for the user and the manufacturing operator. Together, value-added application examples will be defined, data to be exchanged will be specified and new types of digital services will be tested. This creates a win-win situation for all parties involved, which can also be transferred to the other association members’ own products.
In all implementations of “Industry 4.0” it is also important to consider not only the technical aspects. The Industry Business Network 4.0 e. V. association therefore supports its members with suitable guidelines also in the preparation of the digital transformation in their own companies as well as by imparting knowledge regarding suitable use cases and new business models.
This article was first published in the magazine “Der Praktiker”, issue 8/2019. Click here for the website
- Dr Michael Schnick, Managing Director, Oscar PLT GmbH
- Volker Krink, Head of Development, Kjellberg Technologiepark GmbH
- Konstantin Kernschmidt, Head of Research and Development, MicroStep Europa GmbH
- Igor Mikulina, Managing Director MicroStep Europe and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Industry Business Network 4.0 e.V.
- Matthew Mikulina, Business Development Industry 4.0, MicroStep Europa GmbH