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Home > Technology List > Industry 4.0: Welcome to the smart factory

Industry 4.0: Welcome to the smart factory

Published time: 2018-03-29

Industry 4.0: Welcome to the smart factory

Industry 4.0 is the Internet of Things in production and networks the entire value chain. That means it connects machinery, products, people and systems so as to enable processes that are largely automated. Companies can produce goods more efficiently, flexibly and cheaply in a smart factory. However, that also changes the requirements on the labor market: Routine tasks are eliminated, making room for new and more demanding activities. People will continue to play a key role. Enterprises face many challenges, such as: How can older machines be made web-enabled and connected systems protected against hackers?

Robots move autonomously through the factory halls, transporting production materials from A to B. Products communicate with machines and initiate the next manufacturing steps themselves. And when devices identify that they need to be serviced, they automatically notify the technician. Welcome to the smart factory!

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0 for short) has begun. The steam engine, conveyor belt, electronics and IT are now being followed by smart, connected systems. They are fundamentally changing the way we produce things. In the future, it will be possible to automate most of the processes along the entire value chain. Machines will be able to communicate with each other and take decisions on their own. They will use sensors – their sensory organs – to collect data, which is then filtered before being passed on to a platform. The latter is the brain, as it were – the place where the machines’ data is pooled with information from other sources, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications or the environment. The data is analyzed to allow actions to be derived from it.

Examples of Industry 4.0

Up to now, most companies have used Industry 4.0 technology to make their production operations faster and cheaper or to reduce scrap. They can identify sources of error, for example, by analyzing machine data. One instance of that: A European aircraft manufacturer was faced with the question of why such large tolerance deviations occurred when wings were assembled at its Hamburg plant. The answer was astonishing: The problems always occurred when the tide was falling. The manufacturer discovered that by correlating the machine data with environmental data using big data analytics. It was then able to adjust its production accordingly.

Many enterprises also use predictive maintenance. They constantly analyze machine data and compare it with past patterns. That allows them to identify the conditions under which problems usually occur and carry out servicing work before expensive downtimes are caused. One example is the BASF plant in Ludwigshafen: BASF has developed an early-warning system to enable better planning of maintenance for production plant, pumps, engines and heat exchangers. It analyzes real-time and historical data and can thus predict when maintenance work will be necessary. However, the principle of a smart factory can not only be applied locally, but machines at different locations all over the world can be connected to create one huge, virtual factory. At Infineon, for example, sites in Asia transfer their test results directly to the plant in Dresden, where they are incorporated in production.

Industry 4.0 in the automotive sector

The automotive sector is also already using Industry 4.0 successfully. Daimler, for instance, evaluates machine data to improve the quality of cylinder head production. The persons in charge can thus detect deviations and irregularities at an early stage in the manufacturing process and take action quickly. As a result, they reduce the error rate and make the production process more cost-effective. Volkswagen is pursuing another exciting approach: In an Industry 4.0 project, it uses RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to capture data from components in test vehicles faster. The components are already fitted with RFID chips by the suppliers. When the vehicles are tested, engineers can identify the installed prototype parts effortlessly and display detailed information they need for development. They thus have the right information at the right place and at the right time.

Industry 4.0 in logistics

In logistics, Industry 4.0 technologies help optimize transport routes, utilize storage capacities perfectly and plan ahead. The Port of Hamburg is one such example. 140 million tons of goods are transshipped there every year, a figure that will likely double by 2030. However, there’s not enough space at the port. The Hamburg Port Authority therefore faced the challenge of shifting the containers faster. 

People, trucks, containers, ships, cranes and traffic management systems were connected with each other in an Industry 4.0 project. They all communicate with each other and supply business-related data. The upshot: Trucks reach their destination faster and the drivers know where they can unload their consignment more quickly. Shipmasters can plan their trips in advance. All that has simplified the processes, allowing the Port of Hamburg to transship goods more swiftly.

This article is from the infineon website. More information is available at its website:


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