I recently read a Plastics Technology article, authored by Max Preston of Smart Attend, discussing how an automotive parts manufacturer introduced Industry 4.0 innovations to production staff. One paragraph, in particular, got me thinking:
“As many suppliers offer new digital gateways for managers to access their data, it’s devastating for a management team to fumble with attempting to introduce five different Industry 4.0 systems that are all burying them and their team in information. Any system must centralize all of these data points and . . . make the lives of the organization’s employees easier through speed and accuracy. ” (italics added)
I couldn’t agree more with the author. Multiple Industry 4.0 implementations are likely to bury a team in information. Any workable Industry 4.0 system must centralize and consolidate data if it is going to make anyone’s work life easier.
Which brings me to my point: There are a lot of “Industry 4.0” implementations out there, enough that nearly every manufacturer with an intelligent control has a different one. These manufacturer-specific Industry 4.0 implementations are a necessary first step, but they’re not what processors are really looking for. IMHO, what processors are after is a common Industry 4.0 approach that embodies a universal format and protocols, universal data mapping by machine type, real plug-and-play connectivity, and a capability to roll up the data into a meaningful picture, using your own manufacturing software platform or a third-party platform.
Industry pioneers who have built their own equipment-monitoring systems know that, in the absence of a common approach (or a preponderance of machinery from one manufacturer), integrating equipment for the purposes of data gathering, collection, analysis, or process control can be very expensive. You pick your hardware, pick your software, pick your integrator, and write code until it works. But even the best custom solutions have a service life: you’ve got to support these systems through hardware changes and software upgrades. And you never know when a change or upgrade to one element “breaks” another and requires a custom fix.
Custom monitoring systems like these are far beyond the means of small- to mid-sized processors. At Conair, we believe that Industry 4.0 solutions should be available to all processors, affordable, easy to set up, and easy to use. We envision Industry 4.0 monitoring solutions that will:
- Collect and accept data from current or legacy equipment, with data collected either from intelligent controls or equipment sensors.
- Consolidate and process information from many machines, regardless of equipment type and manufacturer.
- Offer cloud-based software, data storage, and analytics so processors won’t have to worry about making system upgrades or getting the latest release.
- Provide features and information displays that meet the needs and performance requirements of typical processors.
Solutions like this will take time to develop and they’ll face plenty of challenges, not the least of which will be manufacturers who want to push their own proprietary approaches. But if the spirit of Industry 4.0 is about making equipment that works together, in a truly integrated way, it’s hard to see how anything except a broad, inclusive approach will provide a lasting solution.