The New Critical Success Factor

The New Critical Success Factor

It seems every trade magazine nowadays has an article on Industry 4.0 or big data or the Internet of Things or the digital factory.  These terms are being pitched around like a rugby ball and almost always with a decided lack of clear definitions.

So, as the saying goes, let’s set the record straight.


After German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in conjunction with her ministers of industry and education, ordered a study about the manufacturing environment, the ACATECH, which is a portmanteau word for academic and technology, the German Academy of Science & Engineering drafted the vision of Industrie 4.0. It was planned as a coordinated initiative between the IT world, universities and various manufacturing associations, designed to reshape industry.

It would seek to combine the physical, virtual, IT and cyber systems, thereby creating a new working environment between worker and machine.  The 4.0 part of the name, incidentally, derives from the fourth industrial revolution, the predecessors being the emergence of mechanization through steam/water power, the impact of electricity on mass production and the invention of the computer, which led to our modern concepts of IT and automation.

Industry 4.0 (English spelling) has been adopted worldwide as a functional goal in industry, especially the manufacturing world. As a sidebar, we all know today’s market has been additionally impacted by the emergence of new materials and now 3D printing, but that’s another story.  Industry 4.0 represents a highpoint of dynamic achievement, where every company, whether a large OEM, major tier supplier or smaller job shop, can implement and benefit from the technologies and communications platforms available today.

Without question, Industry 4.0 is less a vision of the future and more a vibrant collaboration between IT, machine builders, industrial automation integrators and especially motion control suppliers, who function at the heart of the machines, simultaneously effecting motion, then gathering and transmitting the relevant data to the appropriate control link in the company’s infrastructure, all at speeds measured in nanoseconds.

To work effectively, this concept requires a standardization of platforms in both communications and languages used.

Integration in practice

While the big data idea overwhelms most managers, technicians and operators alike, the key is the manipulation of that data in a hierarchy of need, to borrow a term from the psychology world. The mobile device, tablet, cell phone and now the HMI screen itself can all be useful tools in transmitting the most important data from the shop floor to the top floor, or just down the hall to the front office.

We say that for a reason, as the small shop owner would be well advised to heed this trend and respond appropriately. That action might take the form of using an integrator to tie all the machine functions and outputs together for that day when his OEM or upper tier customer demands it. In many industrial sectors, that day has already arrived.

Also, the cybersecurity issue cannot be understated, as we will soon see a shift from the open to the closed cloud for data storage in a factory or shop network. The protection of your intellectual property remains paramount, on a global scale, today.  To overlook that reality is to compromise the stability and security of your company.

“Remaining competitive” takes on many meanings, depending on your location in the world, but here are some thoughts on how manufacturers can do it better today. By the time you finish reading this column, another entrepreneur will have figured out a way to make it happen for his or her company.

Time-to-market reduction is as critical today as ever. Shorter innovation cycles, the result of new product lifecycle management software and services available to companies both big and small, mean the savvy product companies can take their concept and make it fly in just a fraction of the time spent in the past — and by “past”, we mean compared to about ten years ago.

With the recent, rapid expansion of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) capability, much more functionality can be built into a product today and this means the manufacturing community must be even more flexible and responsive, not merely reactive, than ever before.

With the “big data” impact that has resulted from the above scenario, both machine and component manufacturers are challenged in many ways, not the least of which is the daunting task of deciphering the important or exceptional from the nominal. A quality ERP or MES system can tell you what you need to know, but the keys are the determining factors that make up the inputs to these systems and how their priorities are set.

From our perspective in the motion control and communication platform world, where customers task us with the control, generation or application of movement on everything from a machine tool to a packaging line, from an automotive assembly line to a turnkey book printing facility, we see a great variety of needs among OEMs as well as end-users in these various segments. All of them require flexibility and often highly-customized solutions to their manufacturing or processing challenges.

Plus, maintaining high productivity on aging equipment is a constant concern for every company. Do they need to retrofit their existing machine or invest in a new one? Are enhanced robotics and transfer mechanisms or more personnel required on the line? Should they focus on better asset management or an entirely new business model, when thinking about their factories or processing facilities? Today, as the digital factory emerges in all industries and at companies of all sizes, we find ourselves providing answers to these questions, based on not only product, but also software, communication, bus protocol and other areas of manufacturing expertise.

Utilization of the data to remain competitive today

It’s now a popular saying that “data drives utilization.” Using data smartly, however, requires an educated workforce that can take product design and turn it into viable and profitable production for the employer, regardless of the machine, widget, chemistry or package being produced. In a world dictated by product lifecycle management needs, the correlation between design, production planning, output and delivery, plus the monitoring of usage and returns in the field, has never been more important, but also never more manageable, given the new tools available from both product and service providers in the market today.

With IT as the link, today’s digital factory will, as we say, tie the shop floor to the top floor. A word about security: The involvement of your suppliers, especially as it pertains to the cyber security of big data, is a critical factor today. While technology is key, so is the old-fashioned but highly underrated notion of trust. Companies are most productive when they can trust their suppliers, especially those who promote a “defense in depth” approach to cyber security.

That value can often come in unseen ways, such as the access provided to your workforce for prompt and effective answers to questions. Perhaps it’s a 24-hour hotline, perhaps it’s an onboard technical manual in the machine controller with troubleshooting capability on-screen, or perhaps it’s a supplier-provided training webinar that will expand the way your operators and maintenance personnel use their machines. Taking full advantage of these services will improve the productivity of your factory floor. You hear about total cost of ownership (TCO) and this is one of those subtle but very real factors that drives that calculation.

Another key area in remaining competitive is the cost of energy. The more a machine can do with less energy, the more efficient and profitable it becomes. That’s the obvious part. How to get there can take many forms. For example, the simple notion of regenerative energy, a concept in play in the electrical world since Sprague’s regen braking motor in 1886, can be monitored and manipulated by today’s drives, putting power back onto the grid or using it to drive other equipment. By simply implementing “smart” motors, drives and other equipment, manufacturers of all types can improve their productivity and the bottom line — a win-win, to be sure.

Lastly, safety must be paramount, not only as it protects the workforce, but also as it contributes to overall efficiency and the profit picture. Fewer accidents result when there is a reduction in the mean time to repair and equipment is replaced before it malfunctions and hurts someone. This requires implementing both preventive and predictive maintenance protocols at your company.

Examples from industry today

Confidence in digital manufacturing is higher than ever among leading companies these days and for good reason. Industry leaders are beginning to realize benefits from their investments in digital technologies and next-generation robotics. One carmaker offers a prime example of how the benefits of digitalization can accrue. In their case, everything from design to execution planning is implemented digitally.

They once required 30 months to manufacture their luxury sports sedan, from start to finish. Thanks to digitalization, production time was reduced to 16 months and the company succeeded in achieving a threefold manufacturing productivity increase. Another successful application of digitalization can be found at another car plant equipped with more than 1,000 robots, all of which help to weld vehicle bodies with accuracy within a tenth of a millimeter. Robots also control the first fully automated hang-on assembly line, which attaches the doors, hoods and hatches to the vehicles – a process that previously was entirely manual. The plant also has an automated engine marriage process and a new integrated paint process that uses 30% less energy and produces 40% fewer emissions.

Digitalization and its proper implementation is now emerging as a critical success factor for industry. It means gathering more data and analyzing that data in a virtual context so that better decisions and, in many cases, predictive decisions can be made. It’s changing the way products are developed, built and delivered through ma­chine learning, additive manufacturing and advanced robotics. And it’s changing the way products evolve through cloud technology, knowledge automation and big-data analytics.

Digital technologies present a billion-dollar opportunity for manufacturers to transform their production and reorient their value proposition to meet the needs of today’s digital consumers. The competitiveness of the manufacturer increases because digitalization introduces even higher speed into the product development lifecycle, thus enabling faster response to consumer demand.

Simulation is one digitalization tool which drives shorter innovation cycles, even when highly complex products and large volumes of manufacturing data are involved. In a simulation environment, a virtual model of each component in a device or machine is generated, which allows designers and builders to explore what-if scenarios easily and quickly.

These virtual models have come to be known as “digital twins”. They analyze the gathered data and then use it to run simulations and benchmark performance, allowing plant operators to pinpoint where gains can be made. By pairing both virtual and physical worlds (the twins), analysis of data and monitoring of systems can actively avert problems before they occur, which prevents downtime, develops new efficiency opportunities and enables planning for the future.

Existing assets can be modeled against their digital twins and new designs can be tested in the virtual world, saving time, money and resources. Testing the interaction on a screen can verify a modification to a car engine, for instance, before new holes need to be drilled. Such scenarios are occurring at every supply chain step in the auto, aero, medical, off-highway, appliance and other industries.

Digital Connection

A connected digital factory and the big data it generates provide manufacturers with the insight and agility required to compete. Digitalization gives manufacturers the capability to increase productivity across their entire value chain, from design and engineering to production, sales and service, with integrated feedback throughout the process. In practical terms, this means faster time-to-market, greater flexibility and enhanced availability of systems on the plant floor.

The integration of digitalization into operations is also a flexible process. Digitalization can be adopted at any pace that fits the needs of the organization. Some manufacturers start with retrofits or may begin by digitalizing one assembly line or even one machine at a time. By whatever means a company chooses to begin its path to digitalization, the critical challenge is to start now.

About Siemens USA

Siemens Corporation is a U.S. subsidiary of Siemens AG, a global powerhouse focusing on the areas of electrification, automation and digitalization. One of the world’s largest producers of energy-efficient, resource-saving technologies, Siemens is a leading supplier of systems for power generation and transmission as well as medical diagnosis. With approximately 348,000 employees in more than 190 countries, Siemens reported worldwide revenue of $86.2 billion in fiscal 2015. Siemens in the USA reported revenue of $22.4 billion, including $5.5 billion in exports, and employs approximately 50,000 people throughout all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

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This article was prepared with contributions from the following individuals:

Arun Jain
Vice President
Siemens Industry, Inc., Motion Control Business (Atlanta)

Bernd Heuchemer
Vice President of Marketing
Siemens (Germany)

Alisa Coffey
MarCom Manager of Aerospace, Automotive and OEMs
Siemens Industry, Inc. (Atlanta)

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Alisa Coffey is a creative, communications-savvy marketing leader who is driven by big, contagious ideas, basic principles and bold execution. She delivers exponential growth with proven results through sales enablement, effective high level branding and reputation programs and demand generation campaigns. She is currently living Ingenuity for Life and Making Real What Matters.With expertise in the technical and conceptual development of sales-driving persona based campaigns and a proven ability to drive response rates and deliver ROI. She thrive on building strong teams, evaluating and implementing marketing technologies, and bringing thought leadership, marketing and sales activities together into an all-encompassing and engaging strategy.