Reaping the benefits30 April 2018

Released at the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018, the ‘Readiness for the Future of Production’ report highlights Britain as one of 25 countries in a positive position to benefit from Industry 4.0, but is the plant engineering community ready yet to take advantage? Mark Venables investigates

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers momentum, industrial decision-makers are confronted with a new set of uncertainties regarding the future of production. Rapidly emerging technologies – such as the Internet of Things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI), wearables, robotics and additive manufacturing – are prompting the development of new production techniques, business models and value chains that will fundamentally transform global production.

Both the speed and scope of change adds a layer of complexity to the already challenging task of developing and implementing industrial strategies that promote productivity and inclusive growth. A recent PwC survey of more than 200 German industrial companies showed an expectation that productivity will increase by 18% over the next five years ( Added to this, despite only 20% of those companies having initiated a new investment in digital controls at the time of the survey, 85% of them expected to have introduced Industry 4.0 solutions within that time.

In the coming years, Industry 4.0 will lead to a smart production environment, where intelligent machines, systems and networks are capable of independently exchanging and responding to information to manage industrial production processes. Properly implemented, creating a more connected process control system has the potential to significantly improve productivity.

“There are already large amounts of data produced by machinery, which is then transmitted to a higher-level device for interpretation,” says Paul Trevitt, operations and engineering manager for Bürkert Fluid Control Systems.

“As the data is used by an increasing number of processes and controllers, so it becomes essential that the production process uses a universal communication protocol. This enables a free flow of information across the factory and facilitates future expansion of the automated system,” he adds.

Many industries, especially heavily regulated ones such as pharmaceuticals, are required to record large amounts of data from their manufacturing processes, including precise records of water quality, which form a crucial part of compliance with industry standards. However, increasing levels of data can begin to restrict transmission speeds, which ultimately could affect productivity. “This can be mitigated by the use of modern field devices and their controllers, which are becoming more intelligent and increasingly making intelligent decisions locally, reducing data traffic and speeding up decision-making,” Trevitt says. “In the past, data collection may have been achieved using a wide range of sensors, whereas now this can be automated, along with continuous data analysis, rather than batch sampling. This improvement in data acquisition has come about due to advances in design technology and a reduction in costs, which have made the latest sensory technology available to a much wider audience.”

Having captured so much data, it is important to use it effectively. In terms of process control, data can now be analysed local to the process and displayed graphically.

Any anomalies can be flagged at the most appropriate location, even remote to the production site, if necessary.

Network connections can be used to transmit both production information and information about process parameters that have fallen outside the required specifications. In this way, process control is kept at a local level, with only alarms/critical data being sent further afield.
However, the real advances have been in the integration of process controls into the overall concept. Modern designs of input/output (I/O) modules allow sensors and actuators to be combined within the same network, using standardised signals. This enables control valves to use instant feedback signals to improve the accuracy of control.

“Increasing levels of automation and connectivity have heralded Industry 4.0, enabling more and more devices to communicate and interact within industrial processes,” Trevitt concludes. “However, all of this new information needs to be managed and displayed in a way that is easy to interpret. It is essential that, as more and more data is generated, we can process it and use it effectively.

“As we continue to explore the possibilities that are being created by Industry 4.0, it is important that the investment in new equipment and processes is matched by the benefits to the overall business. That said, waiting too long to implement more efficient processes and improved IT may allow the competition to take advantage.”

Changing models
To take advantage of the numerous opportunities presented by Industry 4.0, businesses are having to take a deep look at how they operate. In the 1960s, Rolls-Royce pioneered the concept of ‘power by the hour’ – a pay-per-use system for its engines. Instead of purchasing the product upfront, the customer was offered a performance-based contract. This helped align the incentives of the manufacturer and operator: reliability, reduced expenditure and accurate cost prediction.

After Rolls-Royce introduced power by the hour, other manufacturers rapidly followed suit and the concept of ‘product as a service’ was born. The business models of many engine manufacturers were forever altered.

An organisation’s business model sets out how it will create and deliver value. Over the years, such models have increased in sophistication, depending on advances in technology. Emerging, innovative technology can change existing business models or create new ones altogether.

One example is the Internet of Things (IoT), which has provided companies with a wealth of operational data.

“By incorporating IoT, businesses can continually monitor operations to identify opportunities and develop new strategies,” states Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at industrial automation equipment supplier, EU Automation. “Businesses can now be data-driven, with products and services designed to be flexible and personalised to meet customer expectations.”

This data challenges businesses to change their models to incorporate data analytics, in order to optimise performance and stay competitive. “Data-driven business has shifted manufacturing away from a single-purchase model and towards product as a service – particularly as companies can use preventative maintenance to predict and correct failures before they occur,” Wilkins says.

After Rolls-Royce shifted its business model from selling engines to engines as a service, more and more companies started to rethink their operations. Companies can offer to install, monitor and maintain equipment at a fixed cost, which benefits both the consumer and the manufacturer. The most recognisable example is the leasing programmes offered by many car manufacturers – but the trend is increasing. For example, aerospace manufacturer GE offers efficiency and analytics services to help its customers optimise flight experiences and reduce fuel costs.

The large volume of data collected from IoT devices can be fed into a company’s supply chain to improve forecasting. “Better prediction of supply chain requirements can reduce a company’s costs,” Wilkins continues. “This is because ordering and stockpiling spare parts is more costly and demanding of space than ordering them from a reliable supplier only when needed. Similarly, ordering an excess or a shortfall of components for manufacturing will be costly to a manufacturer.”

Methods such as demand-driven materials requirements planning (DDMRP) use actual sales data to accurately create a demand signal, which reduces lead times and the amount of inventory the manufacturer holds, improving stock positioning. This can be incorporated in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing, so as to streamline supply chain operations.

Because data from many areas of the business can be monitored and evaluated remotely, location is a less important factor in the manufacturing workforce. Increased use of robotics has lessened the need for physical labour, shifting humans into higher-value business roles. “Increasing the number of software engineers or even software robots can help companies streamline their processes by improving services,” Wilkins concludes. “Developments in machine learning, combined with careful recruitment and training, could transform a company’s approach to prediction and analytics.”

Technology has come a long way since Rolls-Royce introduced power by the hour. Companies need to collect data and adapt accordingly to stay competitive and improve customer experience, giving consumers what they need: reliability, efficiency and an accurate cost prediction.

Keep it small
According to industrial services supplier ERIKS UK, the debate around Industry 4.0 is too theoretical and risks leaving lower-tier suppliers and small-to-medium enterprises behind.

The warning comes in the wake of the ‘Made Smarter’ review, published late last year, which outlined an initial strategy to engage government and industry in harnessing Industry 4.0 by 2030. Despite the recommendations, which ERIKS supports, there is concern that many manufacturers, particularly those lower in the supply chain, still feel daunted by the task, and require more practical advice.
“Made Smarter was the result of a welcome debate, but what is needed now is actionable advice that businesses can implement, particularly those with limited financial and technological resources,” says Steve Askins, UK engineering director at ERIKS.

“We have to remember that much of British manufacturing is made up of lower tiers of the supply chain and smaller subcontractors, who are either not engaging in the current Industry 4.0 debate or are daunted by the prospect. Industry 4.0 is an exciting opportunity, but a significant undertaking, even for smaller manufacturers. We need to start talking about Industry 4.0 in terms of small, meaningful changes that can be built on gradually, not as an entire all-encompassing philosophy.”

According to ERIKS, the big win is potentially maintenance strategy. “Maintenance is the low-hanging fruit with Industry 4.0, in terms of helping firms better understand Overall Equipment Effectiveness and the real cost of downtime, “Askins adds. “Ultimately, Industry 4.0 is about better use of information that can be used to upgrade maintenance from a reactive stance to a more proactive, planned or preventative strategy.”

Workforce threat
According to a study by YouGov, 34% of British workers believe that increased automation will damage their job security ( A further 22% believe their wages will be reduced, because of new technology. This is just one of a sea of studies and reports that deem the rise of automation as the demise of the human workforce. However, this scaremongering isn’t necessarily true.
Humans are smart. Over the past several thousand years, we have reduced physical labour by inventing tools and machinery to complete tasks for us or at least simplify them.

Despite this, the last two centuries of rapid automation and technological progress haven’t made human workers obsolete. In fact, even during the First Industrial Revolution, Britain’s employment-to-population ratio continued to rise.

“Over the past few years, fears of automation-driven job losses have re-emerged, particularly in the manufacturing sector,” points out Martyn Williams, managing director of automation software provider, COPA-DATA UK. “Industrial digitalisation technologies (IDTs), such as robotics and intelligent control software, are reigniting fears that jobs in the manufacturing industry are under threat. However, this technology will unlock human potential, not replace it.”

Britain’s position in the ‘Readiness for the Future of Production’ report is supported by the release of the government’s ‘Made Smarter’ initiative. The public-private collaboration was launched in October 2017 and aims to boost the nation’s productivity by encouraging industry to embrace IDTs.

However, Williams explains that concerns about the threat automation poses to employment are valid. “Jobs are being displaced by the introduction of new technology, but, due to increased productivity and revenues for British manufacturers, new jobs are also being created. In fact, ‘Made Smarter’ estimates that an uptake of IDTs could result in a 25% productivity boost in the sector, creating 175,000 new jobs in the next ten years.”

Characteristically, engineers want to invent, create and innovate. But, with workflows filled with tedious and repetitive tasks, Britain’s engineering workforce isn’t fulfilling its potential. “Rather than engineering humans out of the process, automation should eliminate monotonous tasks, enabling engineers to take on more challenging and intuitive opportunities,” Williams adds. “Britain has gained its position as a potential economy for Industry 4.0 success. However, without equipping engineers with the skills to work alongside these new technologies, Britain’s fear of automation job losses may become a reality. With the right strategy, automation won’t replace jobs, but pave the way for better ones.”

Adam Offord

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