Industry 4.0: Making factories smarter and safer

admin, 2019-09-11 15:32
Industry 4.0 has become an increasingly popular concept among manufacturers, who can now leverage the powers of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the data they generate to achieve further automation and intelligence at their production facilities. At the end of the day, factories can benefit from IIoT by becoming more streamlined, automated and safer.
One of the biggest advantages of IIoT is it helps operators improve efficiency and reduce waste. “This has been the big focus for most of the manufacturers I’ve spoken to -- reducing costs and wastage and decreasing downtime and cycle time. Another big problem is related to rejecting bad batches of product as they proceed through the production line. Making this decision earlier can save time and money,” said Alex Sparrow, CTO of Quartic Technologies.
“Sensors on the machinery can sense temperature and vibration, which can help resolve any potential production issues and thus reduce scrap, waste or even complete reworks,” said Eric Ehlers, Marketing Manager for Manufacturing and Energy at Cisco.

"Getting the right environmental data, for example temperatures and humidity, can offer operators more visibility. According to our numbers, this data can help reduce print-and-laser defective rates by as much as 15 percent," said Eric Leung, senior manager of Infrastructure Solutions at Dell Taiwan, adding that data can also help with an operator's staffing needs. “Different workers do things differently. With data, we can find out who is doing better at which operations, and then we can put the right person on the right job. This results in greater efficiency,” he said .
IIoT can further play a big role in preventive maintenance, giving complete oversight of the status of the equipment so the operator knows which machines are about to fail and can act accordingly. “At the machine level, there is tremendous benefit in terms of maintaining the uptime of a manufacturing cell. The ability for operation teams to view data in real time and understand the overall health of the machinery allows them to maintain uptime on the factory floor, which is critical to the bottom line. Downtime can cost some companies up to US$20,000 a minute,” Ehlers said.

Enhancing workers' safety

Another major benefit of IIoT is enhancing the safety of workers on the production floor. “With IIoT we can better protect workers from danger. In a traditional setting, for example, there may be a leak of a gas that's colorless and odorless, and there's no way to find out you're in contact with it until it's too late. But with IoT sensors, we can detect that abnormality much earlier and issue an alert, and workers can be evacuated accordingly,” Leung said.

“Sensors and cameras mean that workers will no longer have to do manual inspection of hard-to-reach machinery or machinery with hazardous moving parts. Sensors will also be able to monitor and identify potential issues early before a problem gets out of hand. Wireless combined with wearable tech will allow better location tracking and monitoring of surroundings for both workers and assets,” Ehlers said.
SICK, a German company, has a solution in this regard. The solution is consisted of laser and photoelectric sensors placed near robotic arms which can pose a threat to human workers. Upon detecting a worker entering a production unit where robotic arms are working, the sensors will signal a control panel which will then deactivate the robotic arms immediately, thus keeping the worker from harm.
Ehlers, meanwhile, summarized additional benefits of IIoT as follows:
Supply chain management: IIoT provides better visibility into inventory and assets. The ability to see stock and materials in real time and track them as they move through production in turn will support process improvements with regards to managing shipping, pallets and trucks. 
Cost reductions: Energy management, supply chain optimization, faster repair times, and effective predictive maintenance all mean lower costs for manufacturers, and a healthier profit margin.
Increased revenue: New digital innovations mean new business models and opportunities for incremental revenue gains. As-a-service models allow machine builders to sell machines by the part or operation, and continuous communication with customers mean improved agility to respond to changing customer demands.