From the editor's desk: A vision of tomorrow’s manufacturing

July 2014 News

Wikipedia defines Industrie 4.0 as a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government to promote the computerisation of traditional industries such as manufacturing. The goal is the intelligent factory, characterised by adaptability, resource efficiency and ergonomics, as well as the integration of customers and business partners in the value creation process.

The vision is to take an Internet down to the lowest possible level on the production floor. In other words, an Internet of Things in which every sensor, actuator and piece of raw material has its own IP address and is designed to contribute intelligently in an automated self-optimising network harmony.

Factories with networked machines and products already exist today. However, in the Industrie 4.0 vision, these self-contained systems will be connected together in unified network production architectures. All devices, machines and materials will be equipped with sensors and communication technology and interconnected to form the ‘cyber-physical’ systems at the core of the fourth industrial revolution. The idea is that they communicate with, and control one another, in ways that collaboratively drive production efficiency.

In the future, factories are envisaged to consist of standardised intelligent modules. These will combine and interconnect in ways that make the physical devices active elements of the business processes through the autonomous control philosophy of the device-to-process concept. Some of the more ambitious forecasters predict that tomorrow’s manufacturing machines might not even be owned by the organisations wanting to produce the products, or for that matter, even be located anywhere near them.

If the product ‘knows’ about all process steps, and machines work through components on order. Does it even matter who owns the machines?

What is envisaged is something analogous to the server farms located all around the globe and owned and operated by the IT majors. Any organisation with mass storage requirements simply rents space on these servers and its data is backed-up and always available on demand. The entire burden associated with purchasing, maintaining and operating these servers is effectively removed and replaced by a fixed expense, dependent only on the amount of storage space required. In the manufacturing case, it will be production capacity that is located near every strategic geographical market and the producers will simply rent capacity wherever it happens to be most cost effective for them to do so.

For industry this means highly flexible and resource friendly mass production that can rapidly adapt to changing market needs in a future of ever shortening product lifecycles.

Siemens, for example, has already demonstrated a bottling plant for liquids that shows how the components of an intelligent factory can be brought together using today’s technology. Each bottle is tagged with an RFID chip that stores the exact description of how it is to be processed. It knows which liquid, and in what volume, must be filled, which lid must be used for sealing and which label must be applied for identification.

At each production station, the bottle communicates directly with the machine giving instructions on how it is to be processed. At the end, another machine checks that the bottle has in fact been produced according to the desired specification.

Greg Gorbach has more in this month’s ARC Advisory Group column in 'Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things'.

Africa’s first Automation Fair

SAIMC president Vinesh Maharaj writes in this issue about plans to replace the industry’s biennial Process Expo with something far more ambitious and wide ranging. The SAIMC and the IIG got together with élancommunications recently to discuss the future of Process Expo. The resultant brainstorming sessions exceeded everyone’s expectations as an exciting and ambitious new concept emerged. The first African Automation Fair will be held next year at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, where the organising committee plans to attract exhibitors and delegates from all over the continent. Africa’s premier Automation and Control Exhibition is a visionary idea, very much in line with the go-big or go-home mentality evident in SAIMC thinking today. The Fair will bring the industry’s top people together in an educational technology showcase that will help elevate the C&I profession to the status it deserves in the world’s most underdeveloped regions. See 'SAIMC: From the President's desk' for more and be sure to send us your feedback.

Steven Meyer

Editor: SA Instrumentation & Control


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