During the last 300 years, industry has undergone a series of revolutions.
- The change from human power to water power/steam.
- The assembly line made famous by Henry Ford forever altered the ability to increase throughput.
- The information age brought forth computers and automation.
The cornerstone of Industry 4.0 is an extension of replacing humans with machines and robotics. It is also characterized by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. This initiative came out of German industry.
Of course, these trends are impacting every part of an enterprise, but our focus here is assembly. (To read about the six scenarios of industrial control, click here)
During the first three industrial revolutions centralized decision making and command and control management were the order of the day. Today cyberspace and physical systems are melding into one.
Since 1999, Sturtevant Richmont hand tools have been radio equipped to help create what the Swedes call “SCADA” or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.” The computer controls operator function by pairing tools with parameters and only the tool paired with the active parameter can be used to work.
The tool works with a controller to determine whether or not each fastener was compliant, and it also counts the number of fasteners in a batch to monitor that all required work is being done.
In writing for the June 20, 2016 edition of Forbes Magazine, Bernard Marr stated “for a factory or system to be considered Industry 4.0, it must include:
- Interoperability — machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with one another.
- Information transparency — the systems create a virtual copy of the physical world through sensor data in order to contextualize information.
- Technical assistance — both the ability of the systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems andthe ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe for humans.
- Decentralized decision-making — the ability of cyber-physical systems to make simple decisions on their own and become as autonomous as possible.
Marr also stated that “with any major shift, there are challenges inherent in adopting an Industry 4.0 model:
- Data security issues are greatly increased by integrating new systems and more access to those systems. Additionally, proprietary production knowledge becomes an IT security problem as well.
- A high degree of reliability and stability are needed for successful cyber-physical communication that can be difficult to achieve and maintain.
- Maintaining the integrity of the production process with less human oversight could become a barrier.
- Loss of high-paying human jobs is always a concern when new automations are introduced.
- And avoiding technical problems that could cause expensive production outages is always a concern.
Some, but not all solutions to create a fully functional Industry 4.0 require resource heavy investments. In addition to the capital expense, training and implementation costs often create reluctance to move ahead.
In today’s industrial world, with quality being so close, the advantage goes to those who can quickly come down the cost curve. In addition, the demand for documentation of quality places increasing pressure on manufacturers to implement Industry 4.0.
A centralized MES system is the cornerstone of Industry 4.0. There are several MES options on the market that are do not require heavy resource investments. Often times, the right combination of MES and torque control systems increase throughput and eliminate rework to the point where the payback is remarkably fast.