Development of new solutions for Industry 4.0 are picking up pace. Dr Jürgen Hohnhaus, head of development, Bystronic, talks about the potential of such developments. By Oliver Hergt. Photos by Manual Stettler
Q: How long has Bystronic been involved in the topic of Industry 4.0?
Jürgen Hohnhaus (JH): Since 2010. At that time, the term “Industry 4.0” had not yet been coined. Back then, we asked ourselves: Which Internet technologies must we integrate into our machines? And what will these technologies enable our customers to achieve in the future?
Q: And what was the conclusion you came to?
JH: The first product that was developed based on these considerations was the Observer. Today, it enables our customers to use their smartphone and tablet to access the status of their cutting and bending machines at any time and regardless of location.
Q: At that time, where did the impulse to become involved in Internet technologies come from?
JH: It was triggered by the fact that everyone was already using smartphones and digital applications in their private life. There was little doubt about the benefits of these solutions. So it was only logical to start thinking about how to transfer these benefits to industrial sheet metal processing.
Q: In the media, Industry 4.0 is currently a much-discussed topic. There are many different interpretations of it. What exactly does Bystronic understand by Industry 4.0?
JH: The goal of Industry 4.0 is the digital penetration of industrial business fields in order to improve the efficiency of production processes. In our case, we are talking about sheet metal processing. People, machines, and manufacturing parts that are involved in this process all become interlinked. An additional factor apart from this interconnection is artificial intelligence. This allows intelligent networks to be created within which machines will learn and optimise themselves in the future. Humans participate in these networks. This allows them to access information about their machines and parts regardless of time and location, assess situations, and intervene where necessary.
Q: Does this mean that these networks create greater transparency?
JH: Precisely. With Industry 4.0, customers receive more transparency regarding their production processes. They see when and where their orders are being processed, and how far their production parts have progressed.
Another benefit of Industry 4.0 is increased flexibility. In addition to large series of identical parts, Industry 4.0 enables customers to offer and manufacture small batch sizes with individual parts in a very short time.
In the future, in addition to mass products, this will enable individual parts and small series to be produced at competitive prices. Intelligent system support makes it much simpler to adapt workflows and thus to respond more rapidly to the customers’ requirements.
Q: How much Industry 4.0 is packed into the recently launched ByStar Fiber laser cutting system?
JH: A great deal. The ByStar Fiber is “Industry 4.0 ready”. Our fibre laser is based on a completely new control system. This enables the cutting processes on the machine to be measured and analysed using a hitherto unattainable sensor technology.
This provides us with data that will help us make laser cutting intelligent.
Q: Industry 4.0 comprises various aspects. Where is Bystronic setting priorities?
JH: I see four areas of focus. The first is automation, which will be augmented with artificial intelligence. The next step is the interconnection of the intelligent machines with the production parts to form a digitally integrated factory, the “smart factory”. The third area is big data. That is, the question as to how we can ensure the secure handling and meaningful analysis of data. The fourth topic are new service solutions, which are made possible through the advanced data analysis possibilities.
Q: Is the aim of Industry 4.0 exclusively about building a smart factory, or are selective individual solutions for users also feasible?
JH: With Industry 4.0 we are currently in an evolution process. This means that the development of new solutions is taking place gradually. For the user, the first step is to install machines that are ready for a digital network. This makes it possible to integrate a variety of software solutions, depending on the customer’s requirements. These can be expanded on a step-by-step basis.
Like pieces of a puzzle, which, when put together, result in the complete picture—the smart factory. An example of a selective individual solution that offers an entry to increased process transparency is the Observer.
Q: What solutions does Bystronic already offer in order to support customers with the preparation of offers?
JH: Today we are already able to simulate the process costs and manufacturing time of parts. This enables our customers to define the costs for an order in advance, which they can use to prepare the offer.
In the future, we want to process this simulation data in digital form in order to subsequently automatically generate an offer. This will make our customers’ offer process even faster.
Q: Let us look ahead a little. How will the company’s solutions change over the foreseeable future?
JH: In addition to our machine tools, we are increasingly transforming into a service provider. This means that we are taking the path from the machine to an intelligent process. The transformation has already started with the ByOptimizer, Observer, and other software solutions, for example. These services complement our customers’ workflows and expand the performance spectrum of our machines.
Q:Will there be radically new types of products in the future?
JH: The greatest potential for brand-new products lies in the field of software. In the future, laser cutting systems will autonomously monitor and control themselves. We have already taken the first step in this direction. As mentioned, our latest products are “Industry 4.0 ready”. In a next step, we will introduce intelligent functions into the process by means of software applications.
Q: On which of the customers’ operations will this have the greatest impact?
JH: Their logistics and order management in the back office will experience the greatest changes. Thanks to digital solutions, the workflows in these areas will become more transparent, more predictable, and thus also leaner. This will enable our customers to avoid unnecessary process steps in the future.