All change to reap the full potential of Industry 4.0

06 October 2019

Philipp Jauch believes that change to both machinery and business models are needed to allow us to really see the full potential of Industry 4.0.

Year after year the manufacturing industry is observing changes that relate to the move towards Industry 4.0, IIoT, cyberphysical systems and also the relationship between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) environments.

Before we reach Industry 4.0 significant change is still needed, but it cannot be expected or effected by simply applying technical evolutions to existing machines and business models. Significant change will occur only when industry starts to invest in new business models. 

Today, machine builders earn money by building automated machines that focus on reducing costs and optimal productivity thanks to overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). It is equally important to ensure machines continue to run smoothly and this could potentially create an opportunity for machine builders to offer service contracts. Take this idea one step further and you could argue that producers or plant owners do not have to be the ones to own the machines! Providing another new business model for machine builders. 

Many manufacturing companies are still producing in developing countries where, traditionally, they have benefitted from lower production costs. However, today consumers are taking more notice of the impact of production on the environment and on the local work force. Products manufactured in a fair way are gaining more traction in the market. Additionally, these manufacturing practices – which employ a large workforce but a low grade of automation – are not really suited to the move towards more flexible, adaptive production. 

Paving the way
What would it take to pave the way for adaptive production? Could it actually take place in countries with traditionally higher production costs, such as Germany, by reducing costs and increasing flexibility with the help of advanced automation? 

What would it require? For example, it could include production lines that are easily accessible and cost effective, to allow smaller companies to rent them for test and batch runs. Production lines would thus need to be set up with flexibility in mind and would need to allow for easy adjustment, fast switch-over times and a payment model for the actual production times. One key factor would certainly be the time it takes to implement these changes.

Today, most factories are typically set up using unalterable constructs. Large automation companies protect their domain with proprietary systems and protocols. Plant owners want production running with minimal down times and combining multiple automation systems is high risk with big efforts in harmonisation.

What if machine builders would choose their favourite automation solution based solely on the best technical and cost-effective solution? Having the guarantee that this machine will have truly standardised ways of interoperability would result in every possible type of adjacent machine collaborating together. It would eventually result in factories making giant leaps in changing into manufacturing places capable of fast idea adaption and production.

Machine builders are historically strong in mechanics, drive and control automation and now their IT capabilities are constantly growing and evolving. There is an opportunity to apply IT capabilities to existing machines, but also design new machines with IT benefits at the core. 

Technologies such as OPC UA, TSN, MQTT, industrial hardened embedded PCs, and sophisticated and flexible cybersecurity are key elements to make this vision a reality and identifying and embracing these tools and devices will be the driving factor to create new business models for manufacturing.

It is up to new players entering the ring to challenge the industry with smart, new approaches.  The game is still on – and it stays exciting!

Philipp Jauch is business development manager for Factory Automation at Moxa Europe.

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