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Supporting the digital transformation

14 February 2017

Hartmut Pütz, president Factory Automation EMEA at Mitsubishi Electric Europe, talks about the digital transformation of industry, focussing on its effect on manufacturing businesses, especially at a production level.

Manufacturing is currently undergoing a period of rapid change. In concrete terms this can be seen as the move from automated production to fully digitised manufacturing. New goals are continually being set, but the target is to use existing standards to achieve them.

The way things will develop depends largely on the requirements of end users, which have changed massively in recent years. Increasingly, end users expect more product variety and customisation, but at a similar price point. 

One example is the speed at which online configurators have influenced the automotive market. Vehicle manufacturers have long relied on options lists to make a profit from selling a car. However, competition has increased and more technology has become standard, which has resulted in the requirement for a larger range of personalisation options to be offered in order to entice buyers into choosing a certain model. For less complex end products, the customisation-on-demand process can happen even faster. 

High levels of flexibility
With the rise of online ordering, the link from a sale to a machine tool or a robot altering its work pattern is closer than ever. To satisfy this demand, suppliers require the highest levels of flexibility from their manufacturers throughout the supply chain. They have to react very quickly, changing production numbers for individual items on the fly. This is where the ‘smart factory’ starts to come into being.

As an automation solutions provider, Mitsubishi Electric is a partner to industry. We support our customers in the development of their business ventures with consultation on industrial automation and Information technology. All of our activities relating to the digital transformation of enterprises – creating the ‘smart factory’ – are part of our ‘e-Factory’ concept. This encompasses the e-Factory Alliance, a worldwide active network of cooperating companies. The network brings together manufacturers of industrial components as well as specialist system integrators and software providers. These partner companies collaborate at an individual level to offer flexible, optimised solutions.

An example of the e-Factory Alliance working toward delivering proven solutions to Industry 4.0 challenges can be found at Mitsubishi HiTec Paper Europe GmbH, where a more holistic approach to predictive maintenance has been achieved by implementing a Smart Condition Monitoring solution developed in cooperation with FAG Schaeffler. 

The technology allows a whole range of parameters – from the coating machine and its ancillary parts – to be monitored around the clock. That data is then used to analyse the condition of individual components as well as the health of the individual machine and of the wider plant. The information gained from the system includes maintenance recommendations. This enables intelligent decisions to be made in advance, based on real need, not simply routine. The solution has created a new working methodology, reducing unplanned downtime and the risk of subsequent damage. Overall, the result is improved predictive maintenance, optimised asset lifecycle management and production and reducing total operating costs.

Related concepts
When talking about Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT) is inevitably also a key theme. They are related concepts with an essential relationship and form the basis for Industry 4.0. Recent estimates put the number of devices connected through the IoT at about 5 billion, and this is likely to soar over the next few years. Combine that prediction with the amount of data being generated and processed by a more connected factory, and it is easy to see why companies’ IT infrastructure needs to change. 

We can appreciate, then, the attraction of cloud based data storage and processing services. They have the potential to deliver more secure, reliable, scalable and affordable data collection and distribution than on-site IT platforms. Businesses are increasingly using cloud services not simply to store large volumes of data, but also to perform analytics tasks. Processing the data means deriving trend information and presenting users with customised dashboards. The intelligence gained can be used to improve overall plant performance and asset management. Edge computing is complementary to Cloud computing, and businesses are increasingly finding that they need the capabilities of both. The cloud delivers the ‘bigger picture’ of the IoT, while Edge Computing brings the IoT to life by supporting applications that demand a real-time response. 

Mitsubishi Electric has developed solutions that support both of these complementary IoT approaches. Our company offers simple and secure access to a range of different cloud services, like SAP Hana, Microsoft Azure and Amazon. But we also facilitate it for niche cloud applications and dedicated cloud-based analytics services using Edge computing. The results can be widely distributed intelligence, with remote devices generating lots of information. Those are linked over standard open protocols that can be seen as the key to forming a digital nervous system within businesses. The networked digital data is then combined into bidirectional systems to integrate data, people, processes and systems for better decision making.

Within the context of the Internet of Things; we have also been able to realise a project together with Intel. The company is using an IoT gateway from Mitsubishi Electric to aggregate and securely input data into a big data analytics server. For Intel, this pilot is forecast to save millions of dollars annually and provide other significantly valuable business benefits.


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