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Delivering Singapore’s Logistics Industry Into The Digital Era

Delivering Singapore’s Logistics Industry Into The Digital Era

The e-commerce industry is going through explosive growth in recent years fuelled by rising Internet penetration and a rising generation of more affluent, web-savvy middle-class consumers. By Lieu Yew Fatt, Managing Director, Omron Electronics Singapore

In Southeast Asia, the e-commerce retail market size is projected to grow to US 87.8 billion by 2025 . This stood at US5.5 billion just three years ago in 2015.

Consumers are embracing e-commerce and have come to expect the modern day online retail experience, which is associated with affordability, convenience, flexibility, speed and transparency. They are also getting accustomed to e-commerce retailers promising fast delivery, tracking of shipment at every stage and low (or even no) delivery charges.

Naturally, logistics industry players are facing tremendous pressure to meet this expectation. It is no wonder that logistics companies in this region are looking to strengthen their operations. Many are looking to better utilise of automation and digitalisation to see if they can better run their operations. They are especially exploring newer technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics, data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT).

Vanguards In The Industry 4.0 Transition

Singapore is ideally-placed to capitalise on the advances in technology and tackle today’s logistical challenges with its robust infrastructure and geographic location. The Port of Singapore is among the busiest transhipment ports in the world, and recognised as the Best Seaport in Asia by the Asian Freight, Logistics and Supply Chain (AFLAS) Awards . With connections to 600 ports and access to daily sailings to most major ports in the world, logistics companies in Singapore enjoy the flexibility of choosing the best and quickest way to get their goods delivered to customers .

The Port is also equipped with advanced technology that boosts the efficiency of operations. The highly-praised Flow-Through Gate, a fully automated and centralised system that enables trucks to obtain clearance into the port within 25 seconds, is an ideal example of automation enhancing the efficiency in logistics . This potentially increases the speed of which goods are transited to the next node of the delivery process and getting parcels delivered to customers quicker.

Clever Plans For A Smart Nation

In recognising the role that technology, robotics and automation play in addressing the demand for more efficient and effective logistics, the Singapore government has embarked on several initiatives to promote a culture of digitalisation among local businesses.

The Economic Development Board recently published The Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index, a whitepaper that illustrates the government’s efforts to capitalise on the Industry 4.0 trend and transform the manufacturing landscape in Singapore. In this whitepaper, the government shared its Index Framework (Figure 1), which consists of three building blocks and eight pillars that can guide businesses to digitalise their processes and thrive in Industry 4.0. Logistics businesses can use the framework as a guideline to take the necessary actions to establish themselves as an Industry 4.0 company.

Another government body, the Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA), has produced an Industry Digital Plan specifically tailored for SME logistics companies. Part of the Industry Digital Plan is the Productivity Solutions Grant that funds 70 percent of a business’ purchase of advanced technology solutions. This plan helps small logistics firms adopt digital technologies, including robotics and automation, to address the challenges ahead.

Senior Minister of State Dr Koh Poh Koon reaffirmed the government’s commitment to digitalise Singapore’s logistics industry when he recently expressed national support for the Container Depot and Logistics Association (Singapore)’s (CDAS) launch of its Transport Integrated Platform (TRIP)—a common platform that enables most logistics operators to communicate through a single node.

Through this development, stakeholders along the supply chain can coordinate cargo movements and exchange vital information more efficiently due to the elimination of manual processes and disparate communication systems that lack interoperability. Logistics businesses stand to benefit tremendously from this centralised system as operations and collaborations between warehouses, delivery vehicles and container vessels become more efficient and productive.

Private Sector Initiatives Are Key

The onus is, however, on logistics businesses to capitalise on Singapore’s strong foundations and proactively seek ways to digitalise operations. YCH, one of the leaders in the supply chain industry, is an example of a local company that has prepared itself for Industry 4.0 by accommodating advanced technologies in its operations. Last year, it opened the Supply Chain City , a 2 million square-foot facility that utilises technologies such as inventory-counting drones and advanced robotics. YCH’ desire to continuously improve by accommodating technology has seen it propel from a transportation company to an industry leader.

With technology advancing rapidly and manufacturing playing such a large part in Singapore’s economy, local businesses and their customers are set to enjoy the benefits brought about by augmenting logistics with robotics and automation.

Arguably one of the principal demand generators of logistics, manufacturing output (excluding biomedical) increased 8.9 percent year-on-year as of February 2018 according to a report by the Economic Development Board. The future of manufacturing looks brighter than ever as Industry 4.0 could boost the total manufacturing output in Singapore by $36 billion, enhance labour productivity by 30 percent and add 22,000 new jobs by 2024, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.

Apart from public sector initiatives, logistics businesses can garner support from organisations like Omron, which has recently launched the Automation Centre (ATC). Apart from showcasing state-of-the-art technology such as smart assembly lines and mobile robots, the ATC is open to organisations in the logistical supply chain who are keen to prototype and test smarter solutions. Since its launch in September 2017, Omron has been collaborating with solution partners in test bedding advanced technologies such as 3D Vision, in addition to automation of logistical operations such as bin picking and optimisation of goods delivery in warehouses. These are the type of advancements that are expected to help logistics players in Singapore keep pace with the rapid evolution brought by the expected burgeoning ecommerce scene and Industry 4.0 trends.

Riding The Industry 4.0 Wave

Singapore enterprises in the logistics industry are well positioned to ride the wave of Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution where machines and humans interact together through intelligent networks. Businesses here benefit from strong infrastructure and economic framework already in place. They also have ready access to a technologically supportive environment.

This has not gone unnoticed of course. According to a recent World Economic Forum report, Singapore is among 25 countries that stand to benefit the most from advanced manufacturing and smart factories. The country is also ranked second by PWC as a world business hub.

What is important is that logistics companies here capitalise on the available opportunities. They need to strategically adopt technology to effectively cater to the demands of the modern consumers. In a nutshell, they need to continuously strive towards excellence in their operations and service delivery, as well as ensure that they are constantly adding value to the supply chain.


Grundfos’ Intelligent Pump Technology Supports China Machine Tool Industry

Grundfos’ Intelligent Pump Technology Supports China Machine Tool Industry

Shanghai, China: Grundfos—a global pump manufacturer and solutions provider—is set to debut its MTRE pump in China—the world’s biggest machine tool industry undergoing technological transformation and innovation, where more companies are embracing Industry 4.0 to increase productivity and reduce costs.

A key demonstration feature at Grundfos’ exhibition booth (No. N5-A391) at the 10th China CNC Machine Tool Fair on 9-13 April 2018, the MTRE pump is a multistage centrifugal pump with a built-in variable frequency drive.

It has achieved the highest energy efficiency rating of IE5, and is Grundfos’ push to use smart technologies to drive energy efficiency and support the sustainable development of China’s machine tool industry.

Leveraging its variable frequency technology, the MTRE pump enables variable control of motor speed, allowing it to continuously adapt its performance to the changing flow rate or pressure demands in delicate machining processes.

Within industrial cooling systems, for example, MTRE pumps can significantly reduce heat input into cooling lubricants, allowing for safe, optimum and cost-efficient operations.

Cang Jin, business managing director of industry at Grundfos China, said that the MTRE pump is part of Grundfos’ commitment to constantly innovate to better meet the needs of the changing industry and customers.

“The machine tool industry in China is undergoing a massive transformation today, towards intelligent manufacturing, digitalisation and sustainable production. As a solutions provider in this industry, Grundfos is taking the lead with intelligent and energy-efficient pump solutions. We are committed to bringing customers tailored and integrated solutions that optimise their business, and is good for the environment,” said Mr Cang

According to him, Grundfos’ portfolio of products are widely recognised and used in China’s machine tool applications. In the past year, sales of Grundfos products in this field has increased by nearly 25 to 30 percent—with sales of the MTRE pump alone doubling from three years ago.

At the same time, another popular product, Grundfos’ MTS pump, saw a growth spurt of more than double the sales volumes over the past three years.

To support the rapid growth and rising domestic demand in China, the company has started local production of its pumps for the machine industry. Currently, Grundfos’ MTR pump is fully produced and assembled in its Suzhou factory. This significantly shortens delivery time to customers by two to three weeks, while still ensuring the high global quality standards.

Grundfos has plans to localise its entire portfolio of machine tool products by 2018.

“Grundfos has a long-term commitment to the Chinese market, which is our second home market outside of Denmark. We pride ourselves on sharing Denmark’s leading water treatment technology and pump expertise in China, and are focused on supporting the sustainable and intelligent transformation of the machine tool industry aligned to China’s ‘Made in China 2025’ goals,” Mr Cang added.

With more than 20 years’ history in China, Grundfos’ portfolio supports a wide range of machine tool industry applications. To continue to evolve its products and solutions to better meet the needs of the industry, Grundfos leverages its research and development centres across the world to drive new innovation and applications.

Each year, Grundfos invests at least five percent of its annual revenue into research and development to continue to bring intelligent, environmentally sustainable, and new products and solutions to support the industry.

Machine Vision: An Essential Element In An Industry 4.0 Environment

Machine Vision: An Essential Element In An Industry 4.0 Environment

The burgeoning presence of Industry 4.0 is transforming the manufacturing environment. By Wayne Goh, head of ASEAN, Cognex Corporation

One of the most discussed topics in the manufacturing sector today, and a key pillar of Singapore’s smart nation agenda in increasing business productivity, is Industry 4.0—a broadly defined group of emerging technologies that, in tandem, are creating connected manufacturing ecosystems that will bolster productivity, enhance flexibility, decrease operating costs, and deliver invaluable advantages on factory floors.

The term “4.0” originates from the three prior “industrial revolutions”—mechanisation, electrification, and digitisation. Industry 4.0 is associated with a profound increase in connectivity and automation, through the adoption of smart equipment and systems which integrate computing, networking and physical processes, allowing devices and equipment to autonomously exchange information, and control and interact with each other more independently.

While there currently exist many misconceptions and differing responses toward Industry 4.0—from indifference, to adoption, to innovation—the revolution brings with it many opportunities for producers and distributors.

Singapore’s efforts to future-proof its economy has seen the smart nation agenda feature prominently in the country’s precision engineering Industry Transformation Map (ITM), with the acceleration of innovation, development, and adoption of market-ready solutions across factory floors to pave the way for digital manufacturing.

A (Machine) Vision For The Future

One new, key area of growth earmarked in the ITM is the segment of optics and lasers, said Minister S Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry Singapore, at the launch of Meiban iSmart Factory in the country. The segment is expected to grow rapidly at an average rate of around 10 percent or more with the new demand for their applications, he added.

To encourage small medium enterprises to adopt new technologies, the Singapore-based Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) will also be setting up two model factories slated to be operational by the end of the year. This will allow companies to experiment with advanced technology, with specific focus on manufacturing technology, explained Minister S Iswaran.

Machine vision is an essential element of the Industry 4.0—no other single aspect of the production line captures more information, and can be more valuable in assessing products, finding defects, and collecting data to direct operations and optimise the productivity of robots and other complementary equipment. Unlike simple sensors, vision sensors generate large amounts of image data, intensifying their utility.

The crucial role of vision equipment will increase exponentially in an Industry 4.0 environment. As data analytics capabilities progress, the huge volumes of data accessible through vision equipment can be intelligently and strategically leveraged to a far greater degree. Not only will it be used to effectively identify and flag defective products, but also to understand the reasons for the deficiencies and allow fast and effective intervention.

Ultimately, as Industry 4.0 progresses, this information can be fed to different machines and equipment in the production ecosystem independently, so that enhancements can be made instantly and automatically. These insights could also be shared with similar production lines through cloud platforms.

Speaking The Same Language

With the countless benefits to be realised, it seems likely that manufacturers around the world will demand more of their suppliers to increase investment and usher the Industry 4.0 revolution into their factories. However, capitalising on these opportunities and experiencing the advantages of Industry 4.0 may be easier said than done.

Currently, the typical manufacturing plant environment might be a mélange of incompatible communications protocols—many invented, originated or championed by individual manufacturers—that hamper the easy delivery and exchange of vital data. To realise the full potential of Industry 4.0, instant, automatic, universal communications protocols must be established across different machines and locations. However, given the countless well-entrenched, often competing protocols that now exist, we could easily experience a supplier stalemate in this regard.

Even with the selection of a common technology stack for Industry 4.0 implementation, the large amount of data generated by vision systems means that there still exists challenges in integrating machine vision into Industry 4.0 architecture. At the same time, complementary protocols—while working towards the same objective—are also are making it difficult for a single, all-encompassing global standard to emerge.

Potential, Opportunity, And Challenge In Industry 4.0

The implementation and expansion of Industry 4.0 has created both challenges and opportunities for machine vision suppliers. The exponentially greater value that can be obtained from the information collected and disseminated by machine vision systems can be expected to accelerate their proliferation in a wide range of new applications up and down the supply chain, in the operations of both existing and new vision users.

While the power and promise of Industry 4.0 is still unfolding and evolving, it is imperative that business leaders, industry committees, and decision makers understand the implications of the fourth industrial revolution, and be open and ready to adapt their current, often deep-rooted processes and protocols to make the ecosystem work. Only then can the sector, as a whole, reap the benefits of these technologies to the fullest.

Accelerating The Transformation To Industry 4.0

Accelerating The Transformation To Industry 4.0

The theoretical benefits of Industry 4.0 are well-known, but how can we speed up its adoption and what practical tools are available to those who want to establish a factory of the future? By Ivo Maltir, vice president, Desoutter

Digitalisation is becoming increasingly common as manufacturers of components and systems develop ways to make their products more intelligent. The potential benefits in terms of increased efficiency and responsiveness in a production environment are already clear: but there is still uncertainty about how and when the full benefits of the fourth industrial revolution—Industry 4.0—will materialise.

There are several factors that need to coalesce in order for Industry 4.0 to become a reality. Strong political and economic incentives, the correct investment in skills and training and the availability of advanced tools that make implementation easy will all affect the pace of adoption.

Global Contrasts

Around the world, the economic, political and technological drivers for Industry 4.0 adoption vary considerably. In countries like Germany and the UK, Industry 4.0 is viewed as the route that will lead to the emergence of “smart industry”; where people, devices, objects, and systems combine to form dynamic, self-organising networks of production—made possible by technological advances which constitute a reversal of conventional production process logic.

For the US, the emphasis is more on the role of big data in effecting collaboration, and Industry 4.0 has become synonymous with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).  The US government sees the supporting of IIoT as a means to protect jobs and increase the innovation strength of the US economy, while decreasing the international trade deficit. Over the next five years, the US is expected to invest more capital into the digitalisation of manufacturing than any other nation or region.

Meanwhile in China, where labour and materials costs are rapidly increasing, digitalisation is being championed as a means to transform outdated production methods. Many Chinese manufacturers are still operating in the age of Industry 2.0. However, the political impetus for change is evident in “China Manufacturing 2025”, a government plan to transform the country into an advanced production nation by the middle of this century.

The initiative by the Chinese government will see heavy investment in internet architecture, big data and cloud computing, leading to more intelligent factories. The pace of change necessary here is incomparable with other developed nations: China is looking to take a careful, methodical approach to the digitalisation of manufacturing, seeking partnerships with more experienced nations along the way.

Industry Variations

Adoption of Industry 4.0 principles also varies between industries. The automotive sector is well-advanced in the adoption of automation, data interchange and advanced production technologies, being motivated by high volume, high quality, and cost sensitive manufacture. This sector views process control as the means to further improve the quality of production processes while also reducing operating expenses.

In component production plants, Industry 4.0 implementation offers considerable potential, especially in predictive maintenance. Continuous recording and analysis of process data allows plant and system failures to be predicted, inefficient developments to be corrected and productivity to be improved.

By contrast, the aerospace industry has been slower to adapt automated over manual processes. The reasons are clear enough: production is characterised by relatively small volumes, large components and accessibility problems during assembly. All these factors are barriers to change. Nevertheless, the need to limit quality costs and cycle times, to exclude human factors as a source of error as far as possible and to become more efficient generally are key drivers.

Major aerospace OEMs are beginning to embrace intelligent software and digital networking, with advanced assembly tools making a key contribution. The potential for small changes to make a big difference are particularly evident in this sector: a one percent improvement in fuel efficiency represents a saving of US$2 billion for airlines.

Taking industry as a whole, common drivers are the need for to bring innovative products to market more quickly. Industry 4.0 offers the means to completely digitalise the product development life cycle. This in turn allows manufacturers to provide customers accurate traceability, quality control, and cost effective new products.

Individual Responsibilities

In addition to global and industry sector differences, the successful adoption of Industry 4.0 is reliant on the human factor—our willingness to understand, embrace and deliver change. According to Harvard Business Review’s “From Data to Action” report, the most difficult aspect for organisations to change on the route to smarter factories is their internal culture.

Successful implementation of Industry 4.0 therefore requires strong leadership. The person at the top must set the example and be seen to fully embrace change, commit to it, and communicate it in a compelling way. The philosophy of making fact-based decisions using quantitative manufacturing data will need to be coached into all levels of management.

Indeed, everyone at every level of their organisation needs to understand how they will benefit from Industry 4.0.  For example, the use of collaborative robots (cobots) for unergonomic, complex or repetitive tasks does not signal the rise of the machines and unemployment. It means that manual and automated processes within production can interact with each other in the most effective way. And real-time production monitoring renders many manual interventions unnecessary; freeing up time for personnel to undertake added value, more profitable work.

Tooling Up

A smart factory requires a vast range of products embedded with systems, sensors, and actuators that are all linked to one another via the internet—including assembly tools. These tools need to support the transition from traditional ways of working to a more digitised workplace where optimisation delivers economies and efficiencies we are only just beginning to exploit.

As part of this transition, intelligent tools must provide support to operators as they adapt to Industry 4.0 ways of working. In the past, an assembly worker was valued because they could perform the same task competently on the same line day after day. In a smart factory, that same worker may be required to rivet body panels one shift and wire up a lighting system on the next. Traditional training in all these skills takes time—and the pace of technological change can render such learning obsolete very quickly.

So how can we ensure that modern assembly workers feel valued and competent, and can access the information they need to complete diverse tasks efficiently and without error?  One answer is PivotWare, a comprehensive process control platform that guides operators through a specific set of assembly tasks as part of an automated process.

A graphic and textual display shows them exactly what tools to use, what components to apply and where to fix them. The system verifies that each step has been completed correctly before allowing the operator to move to the next stage. The platform is programmable by the customer using software tools provided, so responsiveness to changes in production requirements is unhampered by any need for specialist intervention.

Looking ahead, companies like Desoutter are already developing the next generation of tools that can deliver Industry 4.0 capabilities and support the smart factory model. And the company predicts that tomorrow’s operating platform will deliver a major step change in multi-tool management, offering far greater connectivity and flexibility than is currently possible.

Gathering Momentum

Industry 4.0 may have some way to go, but it is gathering pace. Governments around the globe acknowledge its potential to deliver wealth and job security and are taking positive steps to help their industry-base make the transition. Forward-thinking companies also recognise that they have to invest in the latest technologies if they want to achieve long-term improvements in production efficiency.

There is also a growing awareness of the human factor, and how we need to make sure that people are equipped with the right tools to be more flexible and adaptable.  If we want these things to happen more quickly, then we must all play our part in accelerating the transformation.

Virtual Image: The Digital Twin

Virtual Image: The Digital Twin

Industry 4.0, digitalised data in the cloud, networked processes in smart factories—what role does the metal-cutting tool play in this context? By Walter Frick

“Just as with every real metal-cutting process the real metal-cutting tool plays an important role, the virtual tool is equally crucial for the virtual imaging of processes,” said Claudia Kleinschrodt, a research associate at the Faculty of Design Studies and CAD at Bayreuth University, where she works on the problems involved in CAD data interchange between tool models. This digital twin possesses all characteristics of the real tool and is able to image this consistently throughout all digital processes.

Simulative Optimisation

Consistent digitalisation, explains Ms Kleinschrodt, permits virtual commissioning or the simulative optimisation of process parameters, for example.

“Since it is possible to file all information concerning the tool at a central location, users can respond to changes in the tool during its lifetime (by regrinding, for instance), the parameters can be modified, and thus a uniformly high quality of the products be assured,” she added.

By relocating many time-intensive steps into the virtual world, moreover, processes can be designed for significantly enhanced efficiency. Automation and centralised planning, for example, lead to reduced make-ready times, better machine capacity utilisation, or optimised cycle times.

Harmonised Systems

In order to obtain an overview regarding the large number of tools used in manufacturing plants, efficient tool management systems (TMSs) are indispensable. They constitute an essential precondition for automation and networking. Fully functional data interchange is important not merely for supplying the TMS with the requisite information; it is in fact crucial for each digital step in the process chain.

In this context, it is not only the information content, but the compatibility between the highly disparate systems involved that constitutes a major challenge. Harmonised systems and high-quality data are thus crucial for implementing efficiently digitalised processes. If these conditions are met, “companies can benefit substantially from digitalisation of their processes. Mid-tier companies, especially, can thus operate efficiently and flexibly, and retain their long-term competitiveness,” said Ms Kleinschrodt.

Potential For Optimisation

“When you hear the buzzword of Industry 4.0, what mostly comes to mind is digital factories, the internet of things, data storage in the cloud, or perhaps also robot-aided manufacturing. Metal-cutting tools are well-nigh ignored in this context,” said Thomas Funk from Emuge-Werk Richard Glimpel. For the digital factory, the digital twin of the metal-cutting tool was created. This twin, added Mr Funk, “contains all the information required for virtually imaging all stations that the tool passes through in the factory.”

For handling the resultant data volumes, efficient tool management systems are essential. Within the framework of digitalisation, process analyses will identify hidden costs at more and more mid-tier companies. Tool management systems will be used more extensively, and with the aid of the tools’ digital twins will increase still further the efficiency of the production operations involved and optimise the work sequences concerned.

“I expect the trend of recent years to continue, and the importance of digital tool data to increase still further,” said Mr Funk. He added that he is also showcasing the company’s new website application at various trade shows, on which the digital twin has been stored for many of their catalogue items.

Part Of The Process Chain

The metal-cutting tool, explained Markus Kannwischer, head of engineering and a member of the board at Paul Horn, “is part of a process chain, and in contrast to almost all other production equipment, is subject to wear and tear. Information on the tool has to be available in digital form in order to enable it to be used in the process chain. This applies firstly to all information on geometrical dimensions, and secondly to other information on deployment of the tool.”

Information on wear and tear, and on deployment of the tool, is important for controlling the process concerned. It can firstly be generated from the tool itself (sensorial tools). Here, the tool itself sends information on pressures, temperatures and vibrations, for instance.


Drawing From Deep Expertise

This information enables conclusions to be drawn on the state and stress status of the blade, and also on the stability of the process. The machining parameters can then be modified automatically using the control system, analogously to autonomous running, where the speed is matched to the boundary conditions involved.

Secondly, information can be obtained at the spindle, at the machine or via separate measuring devices, which likewise enables conclusions to be drawn on the state of the blade.

A series of research projects are currently addressing the question of how the metal-cutting process can in the course of digitalisation be controlled “more intelligently”, meaning more dependably:

  • Shall useful lifetimes be utilised to the full?
  • Is it necessary to monitor the metal-cutting process for each individual blade? “

Relevant Tooling Services

In the view of Dr Jochen Kress, a member of the board at Mapal, it is no longer sufficient to deliver the best possible tool nowadays. “Today, a tool has to include the relevant services, like tool management and the corresponding data. We have taken this on board with our Tool Management 4.0, which we are offering on the basis of the c-Com open-cloud platform,” said Dr Kress.

With reference to the tool, the digital twin plays a particularly important role for optimising the actual machining operation. This is because it enables the entire machining cycle to be replicated in an NC simulation software package. Collisions can thus be detected, and the tool’s behaviour tested. This not only avoids the production of cost-intensive rejects, but can in many cases even replace the use of a component prototype.

Above and beyond the metal-cutting process itself, the correct data on the tools facilitate all tasks encountered during a tool’s life-cycle. This applies to all processes from order placement all the way through to final disposal, such as purchasing, regrinding the tools or machine acceptance-testing at the customer’s facility.

Nowadays, in metal cutting manufacture, more and more of the processes involving the tools required are being outsourced, like procurement, adjustment or provision. Dr Kress said, “We took this development on board at an early stage, and put in place an efficient tool management system.”

Only by sharing data on a joint platform like c-Com for concomitantly maximised transparency can applied technical solutions be compared inside the company. This “simplifies the interaction between purchasing and production, and between purchasing and the vendors”, concluded Dr Kress.

Industry 4.0: Opportunities For Small And Medium-Sized Enterprises

Industry 4.0: Opportunities for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

Industry 4.0 is changing the manufacturing landscape and providing more opportunities for SMEs. Contributed by Faro

“Industry 4.0”, “cyber-physical systems” or the “Internet of Things”: the paradigm shift in the production economy is cheerfully progressing under various names. What they all refer to is the digitalisation and networking of production processes and environments.

The idea is by no means new. The difference is that there are now technologies that offer a level of precision, speed and flexibility to a previously unknown degree. In large companies within the automotive industry, these processes are already offering enormous efficiency and diversity. These companies will set the pace for numerous supplier industries and thus take “Industry 4.0” to small and medium-sized businesses. It is precisely here that the attractive potential for value generation needs to be made visible and concerns and fears assuaged.

Industrial Evolution

One important aspect is that although we may always refer to an “industrial revolution”, Industry 4.0 is far more about an industrial “evolution” that demands tailor-made solutions. Production measuring technology and sensor technology are key tools on this path.

Global megatrends such as resource efficiency, mastering new process technologies, greater flexibility and transparency exert a strong influence on the production industry. The requirements and customer preferences that companies must address are growing: diversity, personalisation of products, correspondingly small batch sizes or the desire for seamless documentation. These issues require answers if a company is to be successful in the market and remain competitive in the location over the long term.

Large companies that have consistently invested in the automation of their production processes can now expect optimised machine capacity utilisation, rapid production times and a lower number of rejects. They are able to react promptly to changes in the market and to produce small product series at low cost.

Intelligent System Networking

This is made possible by the intelligent networking of systems, starting with order management and the material administration and on to the management of the production machines and automated control and quality assurance.

Production or measurement technology plays an essential role here. It provides the high-precision data that the intelligent factory requires. Whether it is the position, the surface properties or the integrity of production pieces, through recognition by means of intelligent measuring systems, data can be gathered and numerous subordinate processes triggered.

For example, product patterns in the production process ensure that the subtle wear and tear of tools can be identified early on with the help of measuring instruments. With a system of “predictive maintenance”, counter-measures can be taken automatically in due time. This makes savings on raw materials, reduces rejects, cuts maintenance and service costs and optimises lead times.

If all information flows are connected optimally with one another then the production process is launched in the system as soon as the order arrives. This steers and optimises the complete process chain automatically, from material flow to the ordering of individual parts and on to the packing and dispatch.

Ultimately, it is the workpiece that instructs the production line on how it should be worked. This way, the development of the value-creation chain is turned completely on its head. It leads away from the central management and rethinks the manufacturing process entirely.

In global competition, this means that wage-intensive locations can particularly benefit from the automation of production processes by means of cutting-edge production technologies and embedded systems. Smart factories create products that remain competitive on a global scale thanks to a high level of quality, individuality, efficiency and speed, and thus help to tap into new markets.


Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

This development is increasingly having an effect on small and medium-sized businesses. It opens up opportunities to be present and act quickly and flexibly in a volatile environment.

Intelligent measuring and evaluation systems are an important key here. It is optical processes and components in particular that play a big role when it comes to digitalisation of production processes, since they supply comprehensive information about product quality, for example, promptly and readily.

With increasing automation, measuring technology can be incorporated even more thoroughly in the production process. Data are available not merely following laborious measurements in the measuring room, but to flow into the networked system immediately. Comprehensive measuring processes boost transparency in production, but require suitable software solutions and compatible interfaces that make reliable communication between the systems possible.

Intelligent measuring technology that can be integrated straightforwardly into the existing IT infrastructure can be an important signpost in the direction of Industry 4.0. Optical systems score points for their speed and precision. With carefully considered interfaces in what is almost a “plug-and-play” process, they can both measure as well as supply the data for further processing. Be it for an “early-fail” diagnosis or to generate a faster, more precise improvement process through continuous feedback of relevant information from the production to the product development or to tool and testing equipment construction.

Further possible applications involve prototype construction, or reverse engineering and product development. Consequently, products can be developed so that they are better suited to the production process or suppliers can be given the ability to produce with adaptations to suit the specific requirements.

Where required, intelligent systems can enable the development of quality assurance measures that are already heading step-by-step in the direction of digitalised production, even if the IT structure does not yet permit full flexibility. Investment costs can be adjusted step-by-step to relevant requirements along the entire value creation chain.

Reshaping Working Environments

Automation will change the workplace structure within the company. In fact, the question of the precise impact in relation to the labour market cannot yet be answered definitively.

Certain trends are nevertheless taking shape. Monotonous routine tasks or activities that can be risky to health or burdensome when carried out by people are increasingly being executed through automated processes or with the help of robots.

Here, collaborative robot systems offer an entirely new form of cooperation between human and machine. Intelligent assistants ensure a high level of reliability and productivity, which strengthens companies at wage-intensive locations and thus secures jobs. A further plus point is that if the employees are relieved optimally by means of automated solutions, this creates more freedom for areas of work in which their creativity and efficiency is required, be it in the development of new products, services or processes.

However, Industry 4.0 will not succeed without human labour when it comes to overseeing the automated processes. The control elements for managing the machines will thus become much more important, for example. With their user-friendly interfaces, they ensure that processes run intuitively and can be controlled safely. The latest generations of control elements can be designed to be so highly flexible that technicians as well as measuring and software experts will be able to use them with the utmost precision. Current human-machine interfaces, for example, make use of the properties of user interfaces from entertainment electronics.

If these learnt structures are integrated into areas of work, they can help employees with the application and can boost motivation and the willingness to assume responsibility. Ongoing further training measures will make a key contribution to a company’s success in the future as well. Yet with user-oriented control elements, labor and therefore costs can be reduced considerably.

Automation solutions can:

  • Take over dangerous, monotonous or strenuous tasks
  • Operate in areas not fit for humans
  • Increase productivity and secure wage-intensive locations



Industry 4.0 Building Blocks

On the path towards Industry 4.0, measuring and imaging technology companies such as Faro can deploy high-precision instruments both for tactile and for non-contact recording of objects, whether by means of visual imaging procedures, tactile measuring arms or laser scan technology.

In addition, there are various software solutions that enable both communication between all measuring systems and interfaces to all common software applications. Measured data can be recorded quickly where required in multi-sensory mode and optimally prepared for further use. This cuts complex programming tasks and costs for system integration.

These competence building blocks are used to develop individual solutions directly tailored to the requirements of its customers, from individual building blocks through to complete solutions.

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