No smart factory without the right gear: making Industry 4.0 a reality

Being able to provide innovative end-to-end IoT solutions for the smart factory of the future will require strong collaboration between automation and IT, says Thomas Punzenberger

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By Guest on 04 September 2015
No smart factory without the right gear: making Industry 4.0 a reality

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows

The concept of Industry 4.0 and the idea of the smart factory have been discussed so often that you might have started to tire of all the ‘buzz’ around it. I worry that the buzz is obscuring the smart factory’s very real potential.

If concepts and measures are not transferred into real, practical solutions, all that remains is a bad aftertaste. No factory will become a smart factory overnight, but equipped with the ambition to continuously innovate and ‘the right gear’, every manufacturing company can move closer to the ideals of a smart factory.

But what is ‘the right gear’? One component is full connectivity from the field level up to the cloud. In the smart factory, planning and control will be, in part, cloud-based, thus changing the familiar automation pyramid. The automation level will not only collect data from the field level, but increasingly carry out administration and analytical tasks, and manufacturing planning will start in the enterprise resource planning system. Ideally, the whole supply chain will be accessible on mobile devices, anywhere and anytime.

This brings me to flexibility and hardware independence. The implementation of the smart factory requires increased harmonisation of interfaces and languages, as well as joint data pools with equal access for the parties involved. Programs must increasingly work independently of hardware and obtain data from different sources, then process it and deliver it in different format.

To improve overall equipment effectiveness, resource consumption and revenue, a platform capable of collecting, analysing and benchmarking vast amounts of data is essential. Automation software combined with cloud computing platforms such as Microsoft Azure can bring data from different production sites together for multi-site dashboarding and analysis. Increasing openness and transparency leads to improved security concepts. Preparing for the smart factory of Industry 4.0 requires direct communication with different areas of the company, and even beyond company limits. Managers want reports, key metrics and even access to SCADA-level detail via mobile devices, in real time.

The final requirement of the right gear is new thinking. Supervisors and other employees must recognise and accept its benefits, and cross-company and interdisciplinary cooperation will enable the smart factory to be successful. The change will not be a revolution, but an evolution. If the internet of things and smart factories are to be successful, companies will not just have to think about their technical requirements and implementations, but must prepare their employees for the concept.

Thomas Punzenberger is CEO of COPA-DATA

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