Industry 4.0 is not just a crucial growth factor for major corporations, SMEs from a whole range of different sectors are also grappling with this. Numerous small and medium-sized enterprises in Bavaria, for example Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen [http://www.reinhausen.com/de/], prove that innovation does not necessarily depend on the size of the company. The Bavarian traditional company is a world market leader in the production of on-load tap-changers for power transformers and Industry 4.0 has long been an integral component of the corporate strategy, according to Johan Hofmann, Head of “ValueFacturing®”.
Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0 – what does digitalisation specifically mean for your industry?
Paperless processes already mean entering the digital age for many companies. Digital transformation goes one step further as it fundamentally changes a process and new business models squeeze older ones out. First the process becomes paperless (digitalisation) and then the process changes because things are possible now that did not work beforehand.
Digital transformation also requires high-quality data in all the sub-systems concerned. For digital transformation to be successful in discrete manufacturing, all the production resources and tools have to be entered in the ERP system on the one hand and all the information has to be entered digitally and error-free in the downstream systems (tool database, NC database, etc.) on the other hand. Paper documents or employee knowledge prevent automatism like data enhancement and are no longer up-to-date in terms of Industry 4.0. Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen set up a separate business unit, ValueFacturing®, for their Smart Factory strategy. In this, we have constantly further developed and improved an in-house assistance system which allows for the intelligent networking of all plants, systems and people involved in the chip machining manufacturing process. The aim is to implement the considerable challenges of Industry 4.0 and potential for improvement associated with it.
SMEs in particular can achieve a great deal when it comes to Industry 4.0. You have already been concentrating on the potential for a long time – since when exactly and why did you focus on digital technologies so early?
The essential driving forces for digitalisation in manufacturing at Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen more than 25 years ago were inefficiency in the machines’ set-up process. What really comes into play here, not just at Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen, is that there is generally a problem in manufacturing using NC machines as the different assemblies (NC machines, presetting devices, storage systems etc.) involved in the manufacturing process use proprietary data formats and the regular provision of process data across assemblies is not possible. Although modern NC machines are distinguished by high machining precision and speed, in many cases they are still stand-alone solutions with the corresponding interface problems. Continuous data flow fails due to the number and variety of communication interfaces involved. In light of this, MR developed and implemented a web-based and digital assistance system for discrete manufacturing that accompanies the order process across workstations and secures a continuous flow of information.
Which specific advantages does your branch of industry and your company specifically benefit from as a result of technological process?
With our in-house developed assistance system no manual data entry is required at all. The major advantage of ValueFacturing® lies in the bi-directional online communication in real time with all machines, plants, systems and people involved in the manufacturing process and the ability to smartly enrich information. The result: manufacturing is more economical, reliable and transparent. ValueFacturing® improves the grade changes above all (= set-up of machines). Without the support of an assistance system, the production worker would have to waste a great deal of time and resources with this complex process and make less than optimal decisions. The system is a data hub and enables the employee to set up and operate the machines much more effectively and productively.
What benefits do you promise your customers due to digital production processes?
The completion of the digital factory concept means shorter lead times and better delivery reliability, smaller batch sizes and greater flexibility, quality improvements and greater transparency in production as well as lower costs in practice. The previously referred to assistance system guides employees at MR, allows for smart processes, leads to better decisions and therefore ensures sustainable economical manufacturing. In addition, the raw data that is produced in huge amounts due to the digitalisation of processes is collected and processed using pattern recognition. As a result, we obtain innovative findings that make it possible to cope with increasing quality requirements, short delivery times, shorter product life cycles and a growing number of variations. In a nutshell: We can continue to produce profitably in a high-wage country like Germany using our assistance system. Other companies should also benefit from ValueFacturing®, which is why we are selling our assistance system.
Which trends will we see in future?
Assistance systems provide the basis for the Internet of Things in manufacturing: physical chip machining manufacturing objects (e.g. tools) are given a virtual representation (e.g. virtual representation of the tool and its data) in a structure similar to the Internet using the web-based solution. Mobile computing is also becoming more and more important. This includes computer work by people on a transportable device and encompasses mobile communication as well as hardware and software. Access to operating data and applications regardless of the time and location, which should be as simple and intuitive as possible, will become standard for all companies.
The volume of data, speed of data and variety of data are heading towards a peak (in line with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics). Which is why it is becoming more and more important to quality and analyse them.
Information can be gained from mere data using statistical methods. Filtering out individual important information from a large data volume is also called “data mining” or pattern recognition.
Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen is one of the best examples of how digitalisation is also finding its way into SMEs – and not just since yesterday. Bavaria in particular with companies of all sizes in all application industries offers the ideal climate to establish strategic partnerships and drive digitalisation forwards.