Making the most of what you have: a practical approach to Industry 4.0

Posted on 2 Sep 2022 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

For many manufacturers today, the promised land of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), can seem a world or two away. Associated as it is with extensive levels of automation, connected machinery, and digital technology. All of which can come with eye-watering price tags and threaten considerable business disruption during the implementation process. Particularly in environments defined by more manual processes, lower levels of automation, and legacy equipment.

That said, the underlying promise of Industry 4.0 remains undeniably relevant in terms of digital convergence: collecting data across a manufacturing process to inspire more efficient operations and greater productivity. In addition, the ever-growing maturity of cloud computing (essentially: using somebody else’s computer) is also helping remove many of the barriers to the adoption of technologies like IIoT (collecting data from your equipment onto somebody else’s computer!).

Yet such capabilities can be more a destination than a present reality. Arguably a more pressing concern is centred on the question: “what does the journey to Industry 4.0 look like for us, and what’s the most suitable route to take?”

Evolution over revolution

More often than not, the answer is to emphasise an approach based on evolution over revolution. To make the most of what you already have, with the gradual addition of capabilities aimed at data collection from a legacy estate to gain insight into basic factors such as the root cause of lost time and delays.

This is a logical starting point, yet the tendency is often to focus on the more modern equipment in place. The thinking being that gathering data from already networked machines is a quick win. Yet experience teaches that it’s the older machines most likely causing the lion’s share of issues – and the bigger wins come from ensuring these are able to automatically gather and share raw performance data. A task that requires 3 key ‘components’:

  • A data source (e.g., a temperature or pressure sensor, a current clamp to infer machine status, a programmable logic controller, or IoT enabled sensor etc., which can be added to legacy equipment with increasing ease)
  • A cloud-based data store that will allow you to gather, analyse, report and alert on the data collected to drive improvements
  • An edge router – a device that can read from individual sources and securely publish this data to the cloud data store

The data store achieves its ideal in the form of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) like MESTEC which helps firms build up a complete picture of every individual production run, and to deep dive in search of isolated problems and recurring issues. A good example being the experience of Martin’s Rubber.

Experts in all things rubber engineering, they’ve been an established name in the rubber industry for 150 years, which inevitably means a degree of legacy technology. They are also determined to remain relevant, and to improve their ability to measure both success and failure rates – while constantly recording best practice along the way (a lot can get lost over 150 years!).

An important first step

For Martin’s Rubber, the journey to Industry 4.0 started several years ago when they introduced a touchscreen MES system to record shop floor data and remove paper. There was however no machine integration. This was addressed in stage 2 with capabilities added to automatically record the data produced from 6 specific machines that were rumoured to have been around since the Dark Ages – complete with hydraulic controls and a complete lack of sensors. Now integrated, the machines are providing invaluable data for helping control the production process.

For example, the company can clearly see the process temperatures and pressures during any job, and gain understanding of how this impacts product quality.  They also have insight into whether an operator is adhering to process. But below this has also emerged other powerful insights such as energy consumption and understanding what machines can be turned off and when to deliver measurable savings. An important consideration given today’s energy costs (Martin’s Rubber has subsequently cut energy use by 10%).

Collectively, these are important first steps on the path to Industry 4.0. A journey that from the beginning demands deep insights into any production process to help address the core factors impacting productivity and profitability. Where manufacturers can confidently act to optimise their operations, from reducing scrap to driving better material and machine optimisation. These are goals that manufacturers can achieve today, without breaking the bank or trying to implement complex automation machinery.

To find out how, visit the Mestec website.