Implementing networked production for customers
The starting signal will be given in Bad Wörishofen in the MicroStep CompetenceCenter: The “Fertigung 4.0 – Industry 4.0 in Sheet Metal Processing” congress, which will take place from 28 to 30 September, has the slogan: Networking, setting standards, leading the way. Top-class speakers from science, industry, associations and politics will present the topic in a practical way for small and medium-scaled enterprises – as already reported, the potential benefits of the intelligent factory in the future will be raised in an already launched and still growing initiative of small and medium-scaled enterprises. Igor Mikulina, Managing Director of the network co-founder MicroStep Europa, talks about the benefits he expects from the cooperation between companies and from Industry 4.0.
Which other companies are involved? What are the specific objectives of the producers’ initiative?
Igor Mikulina: From the point of view of MicroStep, there is one constant overall priority: How can we create tangible added value for our customers? On the subject of Industry 4.0, we rapidly came to the conclusion that the greatest potential in the area of networked manufacturing had to be exploited. And this form of production does not consist of the machines and investments of a single producer – if I want to come up with solutions that allow our customers to produce more efficiently, I have to network the various producers and develop a robust cooperation model.
The producers’ initiative will be presented to the general public at the “Fertigung 4.0” congress in Bad Wörishofen at the end of September – the founding members will also be communicated at the same time. Generally speaking: However, the association is open to any innovative company that wants to create added value in cooperation for its customers at eye-to-eye level.
Together, we want to open up the great potential of networked production for the benefit of users in the future. Essentially, the aim is to define a binding and operationalisable standard for networked Manufacturing 4.0, which provides a sound basis for cooperation projects.
What potential is there in relation to Industry 4.0? Can you give an example?
The digital factory will also provide much more effective and flexible solutions for sheet metal processing in the future: Together with our partners, for example, we assume that we can rapidly achieve profitable results for our customers in certain value-added fields such as maintenance and energy and resource efficiency.
Let’s just take the example of maintenance: As the operator of a production facility, I currently have dozens of devices, machines and systems in use. If I want to guarantee maximum machine availability and the legally prescribed safety standards, I have to maintain them regularly. In this area, I have to accept all sorts of administrative chores – I need data from every system on runtime and on the maintenance intervals recommended by the producer. I have to confirm this data and then make appointments with the companies responsible for maintenance. We are now able to minimize this immense administrative effort by networking our facilities. In the future, systems in networked production will automatically report when they need maintenance. Then, the system will agree with a production management system, for example, on the time window within which this maintenance can be carried out at the most favourable moment with regard to the orders to be processed. If there is then also a framework agreement with the company carrying out the maintenance, dates for maintenance can even be agreed automatically. This would mean that, as a production operator, after completion of the order, I might then only receive a suitable status message. I.e.: With significantly lower transaction costs, I get maximum machine availability and meet all legal requirements.
You are talking about the development of an operationalizable standard – what exactly could that mean?
Mikulina: It’s not reinventing the wheel. There are already existing standards for networked manufacturing that we want to use in the network – for example, OPC UA. On the basis of specific value-added fields we want to establish cross-producer implementation guidelines for the standard and thus fulfill a basic precondition for networked production. Networked manufacturing would theoretically be possible without such a binding standard: Nowadays, it is possible to network almost any CNC system – however, the expense is often considerable. However, a single standard allows scalable solutions: The cost of cross-producer networking would be significantly reduced.
How far do you see the sector has progressed in terms of Industry 4.0?
Mikulina: We are currently in a situation where most producers are grappling with the issue, but have not yet drawn any specific conclusions for their own R&D divisions. And if initial implementations are envisaged, the added value created is usually limited to one’s own product world. However, if the operator is then provided with a separate APP for each plant used in his production line, for example, this can only minimize his administrative effort in respect of maintenance. It was therefore clear to us that the great potential of networked production can only be exploited in cooperation with as many other producers as possible.