While attending the 14th International Festo Press Conference, Jonny Williamson spoke to senior executives about how Industry 4.0 may be disruptive, but offers huge potential for the automation industry.
Industry 4.0 was very much a cornerstone of this year’s International Press Conference (IPC), held over two days in December at Festo’s ultra-modern technology plant in Ostfildern-Scharnhausen (just outside Stuttgart, Germany).
Representing different things to different organisations, Festo’s interpretation of Industry 4.0 centres around revolution through technical innovation, knowledge and qualification.
If steam power heralded the first industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century, the mass industrialisation of the 1920s as the second, and the introduction of electronics and IT in the early-1970s as the third; then the cyber-physical systems of today mark the fourth industrial revolution – industry 4.0.
Chairman of the management board of Festo AG & Co. KG, Dr Eberhard Veit explained that with each subsequent “revolution”, the degree of complexity increases, and posed the question; “Is Industry 4.0 a global challenge or a gateway to the future?”
According to the chairman, Festo appreciated the potential of Industry 4.0 at an early stage, recognising that for manufacturing companies in high-wage countries in particular – like Germany and the UK, it could offer a way to remain competitive on a global scale.
“The merging of production technology and IT can be made highly efficient. [Germany] not only holds a great deal of knowledge and innovative power; with its public funding of research activities, the political sphere is helping to secure success for the transformation being brought about by Industry 4.0,” Veit commented.
For Festo, the key elements of industrial digitalisation are the individual components, which will advance to become increasingly autonomous. This advancement will see the tasks of human workers evolving from merely operating machines to solving complex problems.
The road to Industry 4.0
In order to successfully leverage the opportunities afforded by Industry 4.0, Veit considers close cooperation between industrial associations; industry; trade unions; business, and politics as a fundamental first step.
As such, the company is part of ‘Plattform Industrie 4.0’, a consortium established to create “a basis for a uniform understanding of the concept of Industry 4.0”, alongside a space to develop technological standards, alongside business models and new forms of cooperation.
“In interdisciplinary groups, the participants in Plattform Industrie 4.0 are carrying out intensive work on the future topics of standardisation, research and safety, but also regarding aspects of new working worlds and training,” explained Veit.
Digitisation is key
Veit’s notion that this transformation in the world of production is founded on digitisation – a crucial aspect in the merging of the virtual and real worlds – was picked up on by Dr Claus Jessen, Festo board member, product supply.
Jessen predicted that digital refinement will give rise to increasingly intelligent products, adding; “In future, the individual elements of an overall system will be able to communicate with each other, and autonomously control and regulate themselves.
“They are the core of industrial digitalisation and support the production process through enhanced functionality – from self-sufficient energy supply up to condition monitoring.”
Again, Festo is looking to lead the way by working in close collaboration with its customers to develop new concepts and business models – such as the development of communication-capable components with decentralised intelligence, and their integration into superordinate automation environments.
The human factor
Much of the discussions around Industry 4.0 pivot around technology and systems, often neglecting to consider what role human workers will play in its successful adoption and evolution.
However, many of the Festo representatives I spoke with were keen to stress the central importance of human operators, highlighting that they are – and will remain to be – the vital element of modern production.
As Veit phrased it, Industry 4.0 will “change work”, opposed to “killing work”, noting that jobs are likely to be safeguarded with employee skill-levels being raised.
Jessen described it as, “The role of the human within the industrial value creation process… being transferred from that of a machinery operator to a problem-solver.”
As was highlighted across both days of IPC 2015, the production operations of the future will require high flexibility and adaptability.
Industry 4.0 could offer a viable means to achieve both of those goals, but is a concept that requires a high level of networking and a new level of human/machine cooperation.
Those are difficult aspirations to get right, with many arguing that the concept is just that, an idea with little relation to what is capable in the real world.
To assuage such concerns, Festo is taking a proactive approach to demonstrate just what is possible not just in the future, but now.
For the German industrial control and automation company, its strategy towards Industry 4.0 – and the Internet of Things (IoT) to a large extent – is based on AGILE, or the four pillars of Architecture; General business models; Innovations, and LEarning, knowledge and training.
It is developing flexible, self-learning systems and processes consisting of mechatronic, electronic and software products for collaborative network-capable solutions (Architecture), designed for new working environments and management techniques (General business models).
Through its “4i” products (intuitive, intelligent, integrative, internet-capable), Festo is looking to foster Innovations in its products and components, and is helping to drive a holistic, interdisciplinary attitude towards LEarning, knowledge and training via its Learning Factory and Think-Tank Lounges.
“We are talking here about the transformation of industrial manufacturing into a fully networked, flexible production system. To remain competitive, we must take the initiative with our characteristic spirit of inventiveness and give shape to this new development,” concludes Veit.
Automate UK – growth through automation
The Automation Advisory Board Thought Leadership Network’s annual conference, Automate UK will provide the opportunity to hear from industry experts not only making the case for automation equipment, but showcasing what is available and what it’s capable of.
By learning from the most innovative manufacturers embracing automation – including BMW Mini; Jaguar Land Rover; Aston Martin; Accolade Wines; Lambert Engineering; Philips AVENT; Brother Industries, and GKN Aerospace, Automate UK offers a unique benchmarking and learning experience to all those who attend.
With the limited free places available expected to go quickly, you’ll need to be swift to secure your place before full price tickets will be the only option available.
Find out more information here.