We asked an expert panel whether the much-trumpeted Industry 4.0 is just a new way of labelling things or a key factor in our industrial evolution?
Introducing our expert panel
- Marcus Burton:Group managing director, Europe, Yamazaki Mazak
- Alan Mucklow:Group product manager, Europe, Yamazaki Mazak
- Andy Hodgson:Head of motion control, Siemens Digital Factory
- Ben Taylor: Assistant chief executive, Renishaw Plc
- Dr Graeme Philp: Chief executive, GAMBICA
- Guy Mollart: President MTA/ managing director – Mollart Engineering
- Rahman Jamal: Technical and marketing director, Europe, National Instruments
- Prof Ken Young: Technology director, The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)
- Lee Hopley: Chief economist, EEF
- Jon Excell: Editor, The Engineer
- Stuart Nathan: Features editor, The Engineer
Engineering is a discipline that thrives — indeed, depends completely — on precision. If you can’t define your terms, then it’s going to be very difficult to complete your task, or to communicate it to the team that is almost inevitably going to be working on it. So it was somewhat disconcerting to convene our recent roundtable discussion on Industry 4.0 in the salubrious surroundings of a book-lined room at London’s Royal Institution and to find that none of the invited participants could agree on a definition of what Industry 4.0 actually is.
“Is it really anything?” asked editor Jon Excell. “Is it a definable concept or is it a group of technologies?”
It might be useful here to look at the Wikipedia definition of Industry 4.0, which says it’s a collection of technologies and concepts for defining and operating ‘Smart Factories’, where the machinery of manufacturing – machine tools, the sensors monitoring them and suchlike – can communicate with each other, with the systems overseeing the factory and the people who work in it to fine-tune the manufacturing process and enable such things as product customisation, while increasing productivity and flexibility.
Originating with Bosch and generally seen as being a German-led trend (although it has other incarnations and names in other regions), it gets its name because it was seen as being a fourth Industrial Revolution.
As head of motion control at Siemens – one of the driving forces behind the concept – Andy Hodgson should be among the best placed to offer a definition, and, in a telling comment, he split the definition into two areas, one of which was Industry 4.0 as a commercial product. So is it just a way of labelling things as a marketing strategy, to sell it to manufacturers who may have no better understanding of it than anyone else?
No, Hodgson insisted. For him, Industry 4.0 represents a move of manufacturing away from the physical reality of factories and into the virtual world, “where you can configure change and move items thousands of times a second, and simulate things in a factory many times”.
Attempting to clarify this statement, he added: “If you look at cars, for example, in the design process they used to be sculpted out of clay, and people could walk around it. Now you can see it from all angles on a computer, virtually sit in it, and virtually manufacture it. That allows you to make it quicker, cheaper and better, cutting the time to market and making the economy it’s used in much more viable.’
So is it just simulation? Prof Ken Young helpfully broadened the definition out to the use of digital technologies to give a competitive advantage, “that can be in the design phase, in the manufacturing phase where you’re monitoring what’s happening better and using that to improve simulation models so you can make the next lot better”.
”There are lots of technologies, and I’d almost congratulate the Germans on coining the phrase that allows us to link the technologies in our minds
Marcus Burton, Yamazaki Mazak
Marcus Burton, European group managing director of roundtable sponsor Yamazaki Mazak was in the ‘it isn’t anything’ camp. “There are lots of technologies, and I’d almost congratulate the Germans on coining the phrase that allows us to link the technologies in our minds,” he said. “And these discrete technologies will link more as time goes on, communicating and merging with each other. That’s why nobody can say what it is.”
Yamazaki Mazak is in an unusual situation, said Burton. It’s a producer of machine tools, the very devices that are expected to be among the main vehicles on Industry 4.0, communicating with each other and their owners’ enterprise resource and planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) to optimise their output. But it’s also a manufacturer in its own right and one that has frequently been a pioneer in new manufacturing processes, so can expect to be a beneficiaryof Industry 4.0, as well as an enabler for its customers.
Ken Young’s response about digital technologies prompted another question: is it a fourth Industrial Revolution at all? Our location at the Royal Institution gave a good context to look at the history of industrial revolutions. The first is generally accepted as starting in the mid-to-late 18th century with the introduction of steam power, the advent of mechanised production and the beginning of the shift from economies – in Europe and the US at least – from an agrarian basis to what we’d now recognise as industrialised. The second revolution, sometimes called the ‘technological revolution’, started with the introduction of the Bessemer Process for making steel in bulk in around 1840 and ran until the early 20th century, and was characterised by the replacement of steam power with electricity, and the accompanying changes on the landscape, lifestyles and the economy which that enabled. And the third revolution, sometimes called the ‘digital revolution’, was brought about in the wake of the Second World War by the invention of the transistor, leading to the evolution of microprocessors and the increasing capability and availability of computers. Some people think we are still in the third revolution. So, going by Young’s argument, isn’t Industry 4.0 just a further development of digital technologies?
National Instruments’ Rahman Jamal offered some useful clarification. Educated and now working in Germany he said that 25 years ago computer-integrated manufacturing, generally abbreviated to CIM, was the buzz-word, and that was supposed to usher in an age of connected machines. “But it never really took off, because we didn’t have the internet,’ he remembered. “We ended up with a collection of protocols and fieldbuses, but the idea of the factory of the future started there, and Industry 4.0 is a good way of packaging and focusing on the technologies that enable it.”
”If we agree that the internet is revolutionary in the way we live our lives, then I suspect we’ll find that what’s happening in manufacturing is going to be a revolution.
Prof Ken Young, MTC
Ken Young agreed that the internet was an important factor and perhaps the key to seeing Industry 4.0 as a revolution. “If we agree that the internet is revolutionary in the way we live our lives, then I suspect we’ll find that what’s happening in manufacturing is going to be a revolution,” he said. “Objects, machines, parts of the automation and software around businesses are going to be joined up whether you want them to be or not. Not because you’ve bought an integration package but because they just are joined up as part of their nature, in the same way that the internet links things together.”
The idea of linked technologies proved to be a more useful one than focusing purely on the virtual world. That brought in another concept vital to the understanding of Industry 4.0: data.
“Data really is at the crux of it,” said Andy Hodgson. “We all run these very powerful ERP systems but we only use 5 per cent of all the data they generate. The idea of the factory of the future is to get closer to real-time data so you’re using live information dynamically to be able to inject into a machine tool – or indeed a customer build programme – what we’re trying to achieve in a way that’s more reactive to the needs of the business.”
And this isn’t just about what happens in the factory, he stressed. Gathering data after-market – that is, when the products have actually been sold and are in use – is just as important, because it helps both to fine-tune products, making changes to make them run more smoothly and perhaps avoid problems encountered by early users by feeding into subsequent redesigns. Injecting a metaphor into the conversation, Hodgson spoke of weaving the data into a “tapestry of information you can use to modify and enhance your processes, change demand cycles to meet what the end customer wants”.
Renishaw’s Ben Taylor was particularly keen to talk about data. “If you use a dataset to optimise your manufacturing process, you might want to decide which machine has the accuracy capabilities to make the parts that [you are] going to make this morning,” he said. Where that data comes from can be crucial, and what distinguishes Industry 4.0 is that previously the main origin for such data would have been the machine’s manufacturer, in terms of its nameplate capacity and what it was supposed to be able to do when it was purchased. But that doesn’t take into account variations caused by things such as the cumulative effects of tolerances and any adaptations that have been made. “Sometimes the data doesn’t come from the machine manufacturer; it’s what we now understand it can do,” Taylor said. “I find you have to make sure you have credible data to make all the decisions.”
This sort of data gathering can be crucial in making decisions on factory maintenance and operation, Taylor added. “What used to happen was that you’d design something, such as a chemical plant or refinery, then just build it. But the engineers know that decisions were made during the building that deviated from the plans. So now they go back and scan what they’ve built, so they have the actual data set to be used in the future for maintenance work. In the past they couldn’t do that, they only had the drawings, and you ran into problems because what had been built didn’t match the drawings. So the data is used to build it originally but then you have to get the actual data of what was built.” This, Taylor admitted, was more to do with digitisation of technology (perhaps a manifestation of the third revolution) than Industry 4.0.
4.0 in action
Moderator Jon Excell asked for some examples of where Industry 4.0 technologies were in use to bring the conversation back on track, and Rahman Jamal offered up a system that National Instruments had worked on at Airbus for maintaining aircraft. This is highly complex, he explained: individual subsystems on an aircraft can have hundreds of thousands of properties that have to be checked by operators. Working with Bosch and NI, Airbus developed a ‘smart tooling’ system, where the tools used by the maintenance engineers themselves have processing power built-in that connect to the analytics behind the maintenance systems. “This improves the effectiveness of the operator and shows how intelligence, analytics and big data can help,” he said. This could, for example, include the tool understanding what task the maintenance engineer is performing and configuring itself to adjust to the proper settings – in the case of a wrench, this might be the torque needed for bolt-tightening. The tool then acts as a datalogger, recording the adjustments made during maintenance on the management system.
GAMBICA chief executive Graeme Philp spoke about a similar system in use on BMW’s MINI production line, which uses technology from Ubisense to track the positions of people or items inside a factory — a kind of indoor GPS. The position of a car on a production line corresponds exactly to the operations being carried out on it, so the process management system knows what has to happen at each location to move the process to the next stage. “So the system adjusts automatically, for example, the torsion setting on the torque wrench to put the wheels on,” he said. “The operator doesn’t have to scan a bar code to find the right setting, it’s done automatically. Previously, they’d quite often forget to do this, so the tool would stay on the setting for the previous car on the line, which might be a different model.”
Siemens’ Andy Hodgson noted how virtuality is helping his customers. “We’ve installed a 3D ‘cave’ at Congleton,” he said, “so products can be designed virtually, the customers can come and see them virtually, the work desk to manufacturing can be set up virtually, so the desk and the operations can be done with complete lifecycle management from customer design and development to manufacturing can be virtually realised before anybody’s walked onto a shopfloor and screwed anything together.” The advantages are tangible, he insisted, with time to market from concept to actual sale cut by 25 per cent.
The panel also discussed how new production technologies will make heavy use of Industry 4.0 technologies. For instance, Ben Taylor said that additive manufacturing will bring the process of design closer to manufacturing. Ken Young agreed: “You have to print a different shape so that it turns out the right shape with all the distortion that takes place during the process. You need to understand the process and your design software has to have that built-in so that you make what you actually need. It comes back to your virtual world; it’s continuously updating simulation models as you learn by actually doing things that what you thought was right, isn’t right.”
Dinosaurs to mammals
Young underlined how important the ability to change processes will be by likening Industry 4.0 to Formula One racing. “You learn what went wrong in practice one, put it right for practice two and keep going. And if at any point you stop, the competition comes past you. This is going to be dinosaurs to mammals: companies without these capabilities will see their competition go past them, they won’t be able to adapt to keep up and they’re going to be dead.”
It’s data and how it’s used that makes the difference here, Young stressed. “The cars are going around the track with thousands of sensors and every time it goes past the pit wall they download a load of data, and the race engineers tell the driver how to drive in response to that data. That’s what we’ve got to do to our factories, we need to have that pit wall somewhere to make sure that your machinery, your systems are working better than the next guy’s.”
This mention of competition brought the roundtable to an important point: what Industry 4.0 can do for the UK; and, in particular, whether it was larger businesses that could expect to see the biggest benefits or whether small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should look for its advantages as well. Ben Taylor commented that experimentation with new technologies is risky, and many SMEs simply can’t take the risk of investing money in a system which doesn’t improve profits. “In the UK we have to have manufacturing be successful rather than try things out and fail,” he said. Ken Young pointed out that the Catapult Centres, established by the previous government are intended in part to derisk technologies and prove to potential users that they can invest without wasting money.
”Many [SMEs] might be better equipped to be nimble and flexible, and be able to attract the finance and investment to move into this sphere than companies with a cumbersome culture that needs to change
Lee Hopley, EEF
Alan Mucklow, European product manager for Yamazaki Mazak, added that one of the key advantages of Industry 4.0 is that its ability to help customise products for specific markets makes it less compelling for businesses to consolidate manufacturing in a single factory that might be remote from their markets, and will enable manufacturers to use localised production to get their products onto the market fast.
More local production not only cuts shipping costs – and therefore also the carbon cost of the business – but also means that big enough markets (and the UK is certainly big enough) can have their own production, even if staff costs are higher. “That strengthens the supply chain,” said Mucklow, “which has been hollowed out in the UK, and that in turn helps SMEs. We start with a blank sheet of paper, rather than Germany, which has a whole Industry 3.0 infrastructure it has to dismantle.”
The EEF’s chief economist Lee Hopley pointed out that SMEs are often more able to respond to new technologies than larger ones. “Many might be better equipped to be nimble and flexible, and be able to attract the finance and investment to move into this sphere than companies with a cumbersome culture that needs to change,” she said.
But SMEs also have difficulties, as Guy Mollart, who combines his role as head of the Manufacturing Technology Association with the chairmanship of drilling machinery specialists Mollart Engineering, explained. Being a smaller company can make securing funding for research projects difficult, he said. While Germany spent more than €200bn two years ago on setting up technology clusters to address the issue of implementing Industry 4.0, that drive has not been seen in the UK. “My problem and frustration, coming from an SME mindset, is that we have lots of things we want to do,” he said, “but because my name isn’t Rolls-Royce or Siemens I have no chance of getting the funding. There’s no industrial strategy in the UK to kick that off.”
”The old idea that we can do the clever stuff around manufacturing was a complete sham that, unfortunately, a lot of politicians bought into… It’s fundamental to the economic success of the future.
Andy Hodgson, Siemens Digital Factory
Lee Hopley commented that it seemed that Industry 4.0 might change where value was created in the manufacturing sector. “It seems that the process of making things will be less important than the other bits of the value chain,’ she said. That’s important for how we see manufacturing, because the value is in design and data gathering, and being responsive and developing new business models. From that perspective it’s really important to see that this is something we can take a lead on, because we already have challenges for the skills pipeline; this might be an opportunity to develop a new set of skills.”
Andy Hodgson thought that this view risked repeating some major mistakes that had damaged UK industry. “The old idea that we can do the clever stuff around manufacturing was a complete sham that, unfortunately, a lot of politicians bought into,” he said. “If you can reverse that and say manufacturing is part of the modern world and supports our design and high-added-value efforts, it’s fundamental to the economic success of the future.”
This roundtable was organised in partnership with: