Industry 4.0 has proven a popular theme again among European companies at Hannover Messe this year. But the picture appears different in the United States, where the term is barely uttered. However, that doesn’t mean America is lagging behind.
Defining Tomorrow’s Factory
Industry 4.0 is a collective term used in Europe embracing a number of contemporary automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. But Dr. Jay Lee, Professor at the University of Cincinnati and in charge of a research unit at the National Science Foundation (NSF) reckons “it is just not as specifically defined as in Germany.”
We have been working in this area for many years but one of the main differences between the US and Germany is that we are looking for more opportunities in technology areas. But 4.0 is not about technology, it’s about systems and how people and systems work together.
Rather than the big data collection and analysis that forms the basis of Industry 4.0 in Europe, improving manufacturing efficiency, US companies tend to look at the global market and react to possible threats.
The big issue for US companies is threats such as economic slowdown and job losses. They look for more opportunities in the market by coming up with products and technologies rather than streamlining production.
Another reason Industry 4.0,is not a term used much in the United States is that companies there tend to work more autonomously from government.
There is no government mandate to work towards Industry 4.0. This doesn’t mean they are ignoring it, but companies have their own view of what opportunities are out there. It’s a different philosophy. They are more focused on markets and new customer opportunities.
He also suggests that Industry 4.0 is hard to define. “You ask a dozen companies what Industry 4.0 is and you get a dozen different responses. In the US, companies like a clearly defined vision and goal. Industry 4.0 doesn’t provide that yet or show any clear financial rewards.”
However, according to Lee, US companies like Boeing are still working on specific issues that in Germany would be considered part of Industry 4.0.
Al Salour, Technical Fellow at Boeing Research & Technology. For him, Industry 4.0 is not a term they hear often here. While the vocabulary may be different, Boeing and others are implementing many of the ideas generated by the Industry 4.0 working group, set up in Germany in 2012 to provide recommendations to the German federal government.
In their machining and fabrication centers, Salour is working on accessing and connecting various machines so that their performance attributes can be viewed via a central network. This type of information highlights machine status and contributes to a predictive maintenance program.
What is important is the health of a machine. Previously, data was on the machine itself, so you had to walk up and physically check. We now have the capability of looking at the same data through network access in real time and facilitate decision processes by putting it on a network.
While connectivity to newer machinery is relatively simple, older machines that cannot be adapted with network cards are more challenging. But the effort delivers results.
Once connected to the network, we can capture the key performance indicators and report them. An important metric that we also monitor is the Overall Equipment Effectiveness which captures availability, performance and quality for each machine. This standard will help us to continually monitor the health of our equipment for total productive maintenance and world-class status.
Salour believes the new generation of workers is computer savvy. The introduction of advanced tools providing real-time data will increase awareness and greatly improve productivity. Many of the manual efforts such as data entry for production records or updating call boards can be automated, reducing non-value-added work and contributing to a leaner operation.
Another company invested in smart factories and predictive maintenance is National Instruments (NI), based in Austin, Texas. “While we are aware of Industry 4.0 as a term and we agree with the objectives, we are looking more at the Industrial Internet of Things and the area of big analog data and its analysis,” says NI’s Director of Embedded Systems Product Management and Product Marketing, James Smith.
Probably the most talked-about application at the moment is predictive maintenance. I think this is because it offers such an obvious return on investment, saving in maintenance costs, reducing downtime and reducing waste.
As well as using the usual techniques of monitoring vibration and temperature for early equipment fault detection, NI is experimenting with radio frequency (RF) emissions.“We are seeing how the RF spectrum can change over time using sensors and analyzing this change,” says Smith.
This makes it possible to monitor and analyze machine data, help identify machine failures before they occur and remove bottlenecks. Drops in factory output, often caused by failing assets, can be countered with a type of smart maintenance that runs alongside the smart manufacturing that is more commonly associated with Industry 4.0.
So while you may not hear the term Industry 4.0 very much here in the States, it doesn’t mean we are ignoring it.