Industry 4.0 in practice

Balluff Pty Ltd

By Jim Wallace
Thursday, 20 April, 2017

Adobestock 96396348

Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things are buzzwords that we hear all the time and by most accounts are here to stay. We also hear that for Australian manufacturing to remain competitive, we should embrace these concepts and modernise our processes. But how? Where do we even begin?

In your workplace, if you are discussing issues such as predictive maintenance, condition monitoring, model/recipe changes, format changes, energy management, asset management, traceability and quality assurance, then you are already on the path of Industry 4.0. Some basic measures will help you along the journey.

Lean principles are often the starting point of an Industry 4.0 installation: achieving flexible manufacturing and creating better efficiencies in production with increased visibility of every stage of the process. Collecting and analysing accurate information about the process gives us the resources to make a series of informed decisions every day.

Balluff recently implemented an Industry 4.0 upgrade project at our own production and stores locations as part of a larger program. I think that the lessons learned in this pilot project could be valuable for others embarking on the Industry 4.0 journey.

First you must build a team. Industry 4.0 expands visibility of the production cycle away from just the shop floor. A cross-functional team should be interviewed to ascertain who needs what data. Include the plant manager, line managers, engineers, production managers, quality manager, operators, maintenance, IT etc. Each job function should be asked “what do you want to know?” or “what information would make you more productive?” This may also be a good time to establish what each team member does not need to know to avoid the potential of information overload.

The team should identify components or ‘things’ with Ethernet connectivity and discover what data can be captured and downloaded to the devices. Be willing to pay for the functionality! Consider the value in increased efficiencies against upfront costs. Often additional data is available over and above the traditional functionality of the device. How can this data be managed and what happens if there are data connection failures? Is the data critical on an operational level?

Visibility of the data is important, of course. What data do you want to see and where do you want it presented to allow you to make decisions? For example, process data or exceptions, or diagnostic data that may indicate problems? The best devices provide conditional monitoring or health indication to allow you to flag potential problems before they happen and put preventive maintenance steps in place. Consider how you want to present this information. In some cases, the local HMI or a ‘smartlight’ indicator that can be seen from a long distance is sufficient for diagnostic information. At other times, remote connections or email alerts to mobile devices and remote locations are essential.

Always plan for the future. Design your system so that it is easy to adapt and add to as Industry 4.0 solutions develop further. Utilise the expandability of an industrial network. If you can make two sizes, you should easily be able to make three if the market demands it.

It helps to start small. Think of your strategy for interfacing new and existing technologies, then pick one operation or even one application. Prove success, refine methods and then build on the success. The aim is a plug-and-play solution, not plug-and-pray!

Jim Wallace is the Marketing Manager at Balluff Australia. During his 18 years at Balluff Australia and previously in the UK, he has specialised in RFID and connectivity system solutions as well as various sensing technologies.

Image: ©

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