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Belden implements pilot project for Industry 4.0 in collaboration with the Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik

22 April 2014

With Industrial Ethernet solutions from Belden, it's already possible to implement applications for the smart factory of the future. One example is the new production line for connectors that Belden has set up in collaboration with the mechanical engineering company Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik.

Industry 4.0 will have a similar impact on production technology as the three industrial revolutions that preceded it, driven by the steam engine, assembly line and computer respectively. However, most experts agree that, in contrast to the others, Industry 4.0 will be more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary process. The key to the predicted quantum leap in productivity will be the convergence between automation, electronics and IT. Future production processes will move from a centralized approach to a distributed strategy in which workpieces will determine their next processing location themselves, bringing far greater dynamism to production workflows. 

What this will require is highly specialized cyber-physical systems that combine computing technology with mechanics and electronics, as well as data highways over which these systems can communicate. In the non-too-distant future, every workpiece may even have its own IP address. 

Industrial Ethernet will therefore play a central role. On top of this, those areas of the value chain that are normally still separate today – such as procurement, production, logistics and service – will grow much closer together, permitting companies to react more flexibly to customer demands.

An example of this is the ability to provide customer-specific products in mass production or in batch sizes of one, already normal practice in areas such as sport shoe manufacturing. This trend is also becoming increasingly popular in the Business-to-Business area as a way of optimally fulfilling individual customer demand. This is why Belden and the Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik have started a pilot project in Neckartenzlingen in which the latest generation of GDM-series connectors can be manufactured to customer-specific specifications in series or with a batch size of one – with different designs or colors, for example, or with special accessories in individual packaging.

More manufacturing, less assembly
Switching between series production and batch sizes of one requires an extremely high degree of flexibility. This is why a new machine strategy has been developed that enables tools to be rapidly changed and mounted. As viability assessments will be a thing of the past, only a continuous production process can enable manufacturers to keep costs under control. In order to guarantee high quality despite the rapid speed of manufacturing, it is necessary to collect measurement and production data on an extensive and ongoing basis. In addition, modern status monitoring ensures that improvement potential is rapidly identified.

This is made possible by the Industrial Ethernet portfolio from Belden, using wiring solutions from the Lumberg Automation product program and Hirschmann network technology to implement end-to-end data communication from the machine through to the corporate network backbone. Components include M8 and M12 data and connection cables as well as I/O boxes with IP67 protection rating, providing support for Profinet and Ethernet/IP. With the addition of Ethernet-enabled sensors, these field-attachable wiring solutions can also be used for collecting signals from binary counterparts and linking these to the intelligent world via an Ethernet bus. At the same time, these solutions form the basis for the cyber-physical systems of the future.

Protection against cyber attacks
Switches from the Hirschmann product program can also be used to connect programmable controllers, which can then be visualized via the Industrial HiVision network management software. This software will soon also be able to visualize I/O boxes. Industry-grade firewall systems from the EAGLE family make protection against cyber attacks an integral part of any network management infrastructure, thus fulfilling an absolute prerequisite for Industry 4.0.

But, as we have already mentioned, the world of automation will not be turned upside down overnight – small changes will occur gradually. It will almost certainly take more than 10 years until Smart Factories become commonplace. What's more, the necessary standardization process has yet to be carried out. A considerable amount of catching up therefore now needs to be done to permit the development of optimum systems and ensure that the various areas along the value chain converge in the best way possible. The Industry 4.0 platform, set up by the Bitkom, VDMA and ZVEI  industry associations in Germany, could form a suitable framework for this.

In parallel to this, Belden will continue to expand its Industrial Ethernet portfolio and immediately integrate any standards that emerge. The strategy focuses on taking functions from network technology and transferring these to the sensor/actuator area. Belden already has I/O boxes that boast features normally found in switches. There are also proposals to add versions supporting EtherCat and Safety applications to the existing range of Profinet and Ethernet/IP products. This is because Belden regards itself as a partner for the entire mechanical engineering sector, in which companies continue to use a broad range of different Ethernet protocols.

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