Brian Holliday, divisional director at Siemens Industry, explains the technology trends shaping a new paradigm for high-value, flexible production.
Since the first Industrial Revolution, technology has been the primary enabler
of productivity in manufacturing.
Early developments were mechanised, such as Edmund Cartwright’s loom in 1784 which enabled textile production beyond labour based methods. A second productivity leap occurred in the late 1800s with the introduction of electrical energy and labour division concepts that became central to mass production after their first use in the slaughterhouses and meat packing businesses in Cincinnati around 1825.
Explaining industry 4.0
Recent press coverage in Germany has highlighted the work of the Forschungs Union, an advanced research group focused, in part, on the developments required to achieve the next productivity leap in manufacturing. It has defined the step change as the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0.
The new paradigm rests on much of the technological progress highlighted in this article and hints at the smart factory of the future, operating using higher levels of autonomy through distributed decision making.
Higher levels of distributed intelligence will be made possible through miniaturised processors, storage units, sensors, and transmitters that will be embedded in all conceivable types of machines, unfinished products and materials, as well as smart tools and new software for structuring data flows.
Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineering (aca-tech) believes deploying these new technologies and processes will lead to a 30% increase in industrial productivity and revolutionise mobility and healthcare.
In the UK, the potential benefit of robotics and autonomous systems have been recognised too and, in line with intentions expressed by David Willetts, minister for universities and science, will feature more in future technology investments made by government to progress national capabilities.
However, while this is positive, the intentions expressed by Mr Willetts in his 2012 Eight Great Technologies document do not have the same production focus as the work of the Forschungs Union. They take a broader technology view – still useful but potentially of less direct relevance to manufacturing operations.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, that a third significant productivity change was achieved. This was when factories began to exploit intelligent manufacturing technology and programmable automation and robotic systems were introduced, transforming primary adopters in the automotive and electronics sectors.
Today, industry is experiencing another step change in productivity, driven by market trends for globalisation, individualisation, and the need for resource efficiency, but also by technology developments linked to computing, the Internet of Things and the pace of change in miniaturised microprocessors.
These advances will transform the usability and value potential of industrial automation technologies and manufacturers should remain alert to the following five technology trends in order to optimize their technology base for competitive advantage:
1) Industrial Software.
Industrial software is multifaceted – let’s focus on three key areas:
i) Design – PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software has matured enabling incredibly complex design and collaboration projects. Users have traditionally been discrete manufacturing sectors, using the software to develop the end-products, but recent developments have applied PLM to process engineering, and plant simulation and design too, reducing capital costs in process manufacturing and infrastructure.
ii) Integration- The extended use of PLM software for plant design is leading to tighter integration of product and production processes, a trend that looks set to offer users significant benefits as the tools develop. In plant control systems too, device integration levels are notably increasing. Here, standardised communication interfaces, such as Profinet, are enabling users to easily connect to a broader range of industrial technologies.
This is analogous to the early introduction of printer drivers for PCs that hid communication complexities from users and in much the same way. It is now possible to easily configure and control variable speed drives, low voltage equipment and instrumentation in the same software environment as the control system itself. User benefits include lower engineering costs and quicker diagnosis of problems in operational plants.
iii) Operation- Industrial software is increasingly being used for operational monitoring and control. Downtime can be measured and leveraged to drive productivity improvement and optimised production scheduling can be achieved in complex multivariate applications, with companies like Preactor having led the way.
Central plant systems like SCADA – for supervisory control – have matured too and are able to address bigger data and safety functions at the human-machine interface (HMI) or operator level. A good example of this is the WinCC Open Architecture system in the New York City Subway which can handle in excess of 78 million data points.
The increased integration of plant and operational IT is also evident with middleware such as Manufacturing Execution Systems bridging ERP to shop floor systems and driving consistency in production management. This is particularly useful across multi-located factories in a group.
2) Energy monitoring and control.
As the cost of energy increases, monitoring and management have become critical to industrial users.
In manufacturing and infrastructure alike, one of the fastest payback methods from an energy reduction investment is to exploit the automation system as the backbone of an effective automatic monitoring and targeting system.
As motor driven systems use around 60% of the electrical energy in industry, implementing variable speed drives to control electric motors still represents one of the biggest potential cost savings. Meanwhile, monitoring plant energy use with sensors helps prioritise replacement, repair and management activity, potentially reducing unplanned downtime and overall lifecycle costs.
However, one of the most underused energy management measures is the off switch. Technology can help here with network connected devices enabled to shut all networked equipment down, even for short periods such as a lunch break or shift changeover.
3) Industrial wireless & distributed intelligence
Industrial wireless technology has developed rapidly over the last 10 years reducing cost and improving flexibility in both factory and process automation systems.
Typical examples include wireless instrumentation with the reduced need for cabling or civil works or connecting wirelessly with devices on moving machinery instead of using and maintaining mechanical slip rings.
With transmission speeds exceeding most determinism requirements and increased data throughput, wireless technology use looks set to grow. With increasingly interconnected devices, there is also a trend towards more autonomy – devices that operate independently of temporary communication losses.
This means an increase in device intelligence as more components embed microprocessors or make data available to multiple clients. Furthermore, contactless RFID tagging now enables products in manufacture to carry valuable status data round the plant and into the supply chain. This addresses the need for traceability in many sectors.
4) Safety systems
Industrial safety systems reliably protect people, machines and the environment from possible malfunctions in the production process.
Until recently, safety systems were hard-wired and separated by regulation from plant control systems. This approach had the benefit of wide acceptance and a skills base to support it, but suffers from inflexibility and diagnostic difficulty in larger systems.
Through international standardisation and technology developments, safety functions such as an e-stop can now be integrated into Programmable Electronic systems. Combining control and safety has the advantage of reducing the number of overall system components as well as cost and complexity for users.
5) Cyber security
With IP (Ethernet) connected industrial systems and well publicised industrial espionage cases, security is no longer optional.
Cyber security systems are needed for know-how, access and copy protection. Much development has occurred to protect industrial users through communication technology, software encryption and chip-level hardware protection in control systems but user measures, such as physical security and strict enforcement of security policies, like preventing the use of USB memory sticks which can propagate viruses, will always be needed to accompany security technology.