Implementing Industry 4.0 in real shop floor environments: challenges and solutions on digitally transforming your business


Posted on: October 24, 2017 by Andreas Schreiber

In the context of Industry 4.0, industry expectations are high; especially in the field of manufacturing processes. Fast innovations with immediate ROI are in high demand. In reality, the picture is more diverse. To make your project a success many obstacles need to be overcome. Sustainable success requires careful planning and also structural changes.

Smart solutions, challenging implementations

As the manufacturing industry continues its trend towards automation and data exchange in technologies, typical topics that are coming up are:

  • Sensor-based tracking of the status of manufacturing equipment, considering temperature, pressure, vibration and many other profiles
  • Use of the parameters in advanced data analytics, to predict and order maintenance events
  • Simplify supply chain by introducing additive manufacturing (3d printing) for low-volume spare parts
  • In-transport-visibility of ingredients, semi-material or finished goods on the shop floor. Or on its way from the supplier to the production facility
  • Horizontal integration that enables the on-the-fly creation of a change ticketin product design based on quality issues in production: requesting a change of either product design, tool design or production sequence, that resolves the issue within 24 hours

Many other examples jump to mind easily.

Shop floor related limitations and challenges to consider

To turn these smart solutions into tangible delivery structured approaches are necessary.

Industry 4.0 discovery workshops help to separate the solution that, although beneficial to the business, would be hard to implement, from those that can be implemented short-term.

In order for a solution to be a quick-win, the following requirements are key:

  • Connect even where WiFi is not in place: for most of the above-mentioned solutions wireless connections are required. But if we look into the industrial reality we find that even in major Automotive plants WiFi availability is not a given. It can be excluded for security reasons. But in many cases, it is also technically not applicable, e.g. in environments with local power generation, or with large, moving metal parts. Communications based on private radio (4G/5G LTE e.g. working with Nokia Impact) or public radio (SigFox, LORA and many other vendors) can provide an alternative solution. Most of these vendors also come with their appropriate IOT-infrastructure.
  • Separate Hardware, PLC and Software: the advantage of predictive maintenance would be at the forefront of any engineer’s mind. However, with long lifecycle equipment (autoclave, pumps, press tools etc.) it might not be possible as these often use outdated automation technology and software. They would need to be replaced, which is certainly not a quick or cheap solution. Instead, you are better off ensuring that the specification is updated for when they need to be replaced.
  • Choose the right “track & trace” functionality: Introducing cheap devices and communication contracts, “track & trace”, is becoming ever more popular. Beyond what we can do with Barcode and RFID, technologies like public radio free us from geography and financial restrictions. Tags equipped with chock, temperature, pressure and many other sensors are available for low single digit figures. In addition with features like 10-year battery lifetime and very cheap communication contracts the ROI is obvious for tracking even cheap material like pallets, but definitely pays off to track high value semi-material or products, on your shop floor premises, or on its way from supplier to OEM, or from OEM to retailer.
  • Horizontal integration – DigitalTwin: On one hand, it helps significantly shorten the average duration of a change request by making key information available, like laser measurement results that indicate a tolerance violation, sensor acoustics that indicate a tool disruption, torque profiles that violate the product design requirements. This enables the manufacturer to make a swift decision, to change the product design, the tool or the production sequence to resolve the issue within 24 hours. On the other hand in-the-field / on-the-road data contributes to further product improvement. Such data today typically gets lost, or only can be tracked via studies (TÜV and VDA are the most prominent automotive examples). DigitalTwin functionalities help to fetch in-use data for cars, trucks, machinery, but also takes into account the tools that are attached to it (e.g. harvester used on a tractor).

These are just a few examples that explain how important it is to make the right decisions upfront, to pave the way to fast business benefit from Industry 4.0 innovations. Industry 4.0 discovery workshops are an appropriate way to identify what’s relevant for your business processes, and find the quick-wins that make the investment attractive.

The market shows many successful implementations. The relevant technology is available but without the right implementation plans; you will not find the success promised.

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About Andreas Schreiber

COE I4.0, Head of Manufacturing and Supply Chain
Dr. Andreas Schreiber has worked in Product Design and Manufacturing since 1997, engaging with industries such as Automotive, Aerospace and Defense. After building PROSTEPs US operations PROSTEP INC as President & CEO, he joined BMW AG in Munich in 2012 as head of network TDM (team data management). Since October 2016 he has been leading Atos Manufacturing & Supply Chain Portfolio within the COE Industry 4.0. He has a MSc. in Chemical Engineering, and a PhD in Computer Science.