The challenges facing production are greater than ever before. Product lifecycles are getting shorter, costs and competitive pressures are increasing, and manufacturing processes are becoming more complex. Manufacturers must think ahead in order to remain competitive.
The fourth industrial revolution has begun. The vision for the future of manufacturing is Industry 4.0, the collective term for the concepts and technologies forming a networked production process across the entire value chain and product lifecycle.
Industry 4.0 is based on digitalisation, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), cyber physical systems, connectivity and using the resulting big data. It is a concept that covers all lifecycle stages from idea to order, development and production, delivery to the customer and even recycling and related services.
Consumers are the driving force behind Industry 4.0, demanding that new and complex products reach the market in shorter times.
Siemens not only provides the technology for Industry 4.0, but utilises it for manufacturing. It is one of the few global companies able to offer the spectrum of technologies that Industry 4.0 encompasses, including automation and product lifecycle management software.
Improving connectivity can transform manufacturing processes. Future machines will communicate independently to optimise production leading to shorter innovation cycles, greater flexibility, increased efficiency and improved global competitiveness.
Consumers are the driving force behind Industry 4.0, demanding that new and complex products reach the market in shorter times. Manufacturers need to become more flexible to achieve this. There is also demand for customised mass production where manufacturers need to meet customer expectations for individualised products.
Cyber physical systems
The digital factory needs to have machines and processes connected with each other and with the supply chain. Raw materials and machines are interconnected within an IoT. In the factory of the future the product and machine will be intelligent. They will be networked and control production autonomously, self-optimising and producing more efficiently, using fewer resources than ever before.
Factories with networked machines and products are already in existence today. For the customer this means tailor made products at relatively affordable prices. For industry it means highly flexible mass production that can be rapidly adapted to market changes because in the future product lifecycles will be even shorter.
The secure IT infrastructure needs to connect machine-to-machine, shop floor to the office environment and from there out to the supply chain.
Infrastructure – IIoT, connectivity and big data
Businesses must create an infrastructure where changes can be implemented quickly, via customer and supply chain digital connectivity, with enhanced visibility of business-related data.
Siemens has been working on the digital factory concept for many years. The vision includes intelligent sensors with web servers built into them that can connect to the internet providing big data. The secure IT infrastructure needs to connect machine-to-machine, shop floor to the office environment and from there out to the supply chain.
Siemens uses cloud based industrial apps to filter big data into business data, making business critical information available for strategic decision-making. Cloud technology enables infrastructures to become part of global ecosystem of partners, with customers, suppliers and a connected supply chain speeding up decision making, collaboration and innovation.
Virtualisation – modelling and simulation
Virtualisation technology has captured everyone’s attention. Manufacturers can produce product and machine prototype iterations via modelling and simulation in the virtual world, test mechanics and safety and then produce a physical version, called the digital twin. Companies can take advantage of existing virtualisation technology to out-perform existing brands, reduce production times and respond to customer needs faster.
The Siemens Catapult centres allow for virtual reality machines to simulate the factory floor in an immersive virtual reality cave. These smart automation labs allow rapid prototype development and mass customisation solutions. They are also a great resource to explain concepts to potential investors and other stakeholders. Condition monitoring information from the machine allowing it to self-optimise can be fed back into the virtual world to create future products and prototype iterations which can be migrated across to a machine once complete. With a lot of today’s machinery this is not possible but could be achieved with virtualisation and robotics. The technology is available today, businesses just need to apply it.
Car manufacturers collaborating with Siemens are thinking ahead by combining virtual and real manufacturing. Siemens combines forward thinking investment in PLM modelling and simulation software, use of a Virtual Reality Suite, the adoption of continuous process improvement techniques, and a culture of innovation acceptance.
Engineers of the future will spend more time designing and engineering in the virtual world than the physical world.
Manufacturing at Siemens is migrating towards digitalisation. It is likely to be a process of gradual evolution as virtual reality, connectivity, IIoT and robotics are introduced, to move the product to market faster.
Manufacturing processes will continue to evolve. There will be increased expectations for mass customisation, potentially zero physical prototyping and true cyber physical systems. Leaders will strive for leaner processes, increased technology adoption, and workforce and culture engagement.
There is increasing need for hybrid skills in manufacturing. Engineers of the future will spend more time designing and engineering in the virtual world than the physical world. The future needs of advanced industrial manufacturing will require skills similar to those needed in the gaming industry. Education must encourage the adoption of mechanical and electrical engineering skills combined with modelling and simulation.
Robotics are increasingly being used in manufacturing to speed up production processes. Technology provides invaluable support but human input is crucial in a highly automated environment. Creativity, experience and ability to assess and evaluate situations remains irreplaceable. Manufacturers need to focus on operating safe cobotic control systems that allow automatic and manual production to be combined.
Japan and Germany currently use the highest levels of automation and robotics. Forecasters have predicted that within the next ten years, productivity may increase by up to 30% in Germany. The UK, with its great pedigree of engineering and innovation, would do well to adopt Industry 4.0 in more manufacturing businesses, to increase national productivity.
The companies which will thrive in the brave new world of Industry 4.0 do not have to be the biggest but will be the most flexible with the ability to customise their product to meet customer needs.