Making Room for Industry 4.0

Manufacturing is in the midst of yet another revolution. Once defined by data silos which prevent valuable information from being shared, manufacturing is moving toward increased connectivity—and Industry 4.0 is a significant reason why.

Manufacturing is in the midst of yet another revolution. Once defined by data silos which prevent valuable information from being shared, manufacturing is moving toward increased connectivity—and Industry 4.0 is a significant reason why.

New innovations made possible by Industry 4.0 are paving the way for more centralized, consistent data. Instead of wondering when a piece of equipment might break down, manufacturers have the luxury of leveraging technology like smart sensors to address potential issues before they arise. The result? Minimal downtime, greater efficiency and a streamlined production process moving forward.

While those benefits can provide a big boost to your business, Industry 4.0 does have its downside. Higher costs tied to new components, smart technology and infrastructure modifications have the potential to keep Industry 4.0 out of reach. A way around such an obstacle is modular automation.

One of the many methods that can be used to usher in Industry 4.0, modular automation is poised to bring down the cost of customization by providing flexible automation processes for faster, more scalable product development. Leverage the uptick in efficiency, flexibility and speed that modular automation brings to meet the demands of consumers without breaking the bank. Modular automation gives you the opportunity to satisfy their needs at just a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing methods.

Capable of introducing significant cost savings, modular automation can set the stage for Industry 4.0’s biggest benefits—including reduced downtime and increased efficiency. Using modular automation minimizes testing of your factory’s infrastructure and allows you to select a supplier who can work with you on multiple iterations of a product. The following tips for implementing modular automation can move you one step closer toward Industry 4.0.

Tie It Into Your Infrastructure

With so many moving parts on the factory floor, it can be tough to test every piece of equipment.

Each equipment manufacturer provides datasets and data access differently. Minimize the amount of work that’s in store through careful integration of modular automation. Instead of configuring varying machine data parameters from a variety of sources, you can rest easy knowing that modular automation will supply the complete data set needed for Industry 4.0 in a uniform manner.

Given the rising costs of Industry 4.0, it’s crucial that you identify ways to save. Reduction of startup costs is a simple way to recognize cost savings. Once you connect to your infrastructure and test a modular automation unit, the startup costs will have been realized and any additional units added to the factory floor will have minimal costs associated with them.

The benefit of modular automation is that it has the ability to be implemented over time. Flexibility of adaptation into an existing manufacturing process allows it to be executed when the financial funding is available.

Take a Long-Term View

Short lifecycles coupled with a steady stream of new iterations are indicative of the rapid pace at which innovation tends to occur. The electronics industry in particular is home to more new technology than ever before. Take such turnover into account as you consider which modular automation suppliers may work best for your business.

While it’s important to choose a supplier that’s capable of creating current technology, there’s more to your decision than a product’s initial lifecycle. Settle on a supplier that can help you develop modular solutions which can support a device as it enters its third or even fourth lifecycle.

By coordinating the design of a cell with your R&D department, the right supplier will create modular automation solutions that not only meet your immediate needs but can also be adapted for future considerations. With multiple iterations of a product on the way, it’s important that you consider a supplier that has the infrastructure, history and support needed to adapt modular automation solutions for future use.

Adhere to the Same Standard

When it comes to selecting which supplier will provide your equipment, there’s no need to put all of your eggs in one basket. Weigh the cost of utilizing regional suppliers versus those abroad. Although in some cases it may make sense to choose a global supplier from Europe or Asia, regional suppliers tend to offer faster support and service.

Other important factors to consider are the protocols and design standards used to produce each piece of equipment, so it integrates seamlessly into your Industry 4.0 roadmap. The more uniformity there is among your suppliers, the easier it will be to make use of data that’s collected.

Industry 4.0 is bringing big change to manufacturing. Through a constant stream of centralized data, new technology introduced by Industry 4.0 is ushering in a whole host of benefits—such as equipment uptime and usage-based preventive maintenance (vs calendar based). All those advantages, however, come with a cost.

Make the most of all that Industry 4.0 has to offer by using modular automation to build some extra room in your budget. Poised to minimize the cost of customization, modular automation can free up the funds needed to implement Industry 4.0 in a structure phase-based approach. From making modular automation part of your existing infrastructure to considering suppliers that can develop equipment that supports multiple iterations of a product, the tips above will help you implement modular automation, and, ultimately, welcome Industry 4.0.

Michael Breen is the manager of the SAE team, System Partners and Product Management at KUKA.

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