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As Industry 4.0 Begins to Ramp up, Canada Takes Note

October 15, 2016  

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For several years, Industry 4.0 has offered a vision of a fascinating future, where manufacturing and processing is significantly more efficient and responsive to customers. Now that future is here, at least in its infancy. Industry 4.0-ready components and services are beginning to reach the marketplace. Vendors are gearing up to sell and support Industry 4.0.

Trade associations are ready to counsel members on finding value by adopting its technologies, and governments in Canada are building it into their efforts to promote advanced manufacturing.

The Germans came up with the Industry 4.0 branding for their multi-stakeholder collaboration to develop the conceptual framework, standards and technologies for digitizing industry. You might also know this by similar programs elsewhere: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Smart Factory, Internet Plus, and more. Regardless of the name or country of origin, it’s about creating the cyber-physical plant – linking physical plant systems, subsystems, even individual components to a digital network encompassing all corporate IT and thus to each other.

This digitization of industry will be the fourth industrial revolution, a subset of the Internet of Things movement to digitally network everyday objects throughout the economy.

The first industrial revolution derived from the harnessing of steam power, the second from the introduction of electricity which made possible mass production, and the third from the introduction of IT, the mother of automation, beginning in the 1970s.

Ultimately, this cyber-physical union will make machines and production lines smarter: self-configuring, self-optimizing, employing artificial intelligence to achieve unprecedented levels of operational efficiency. It will embrace many leading edge technologies and analytical capabilities: advanced robotics, cloud computing, digital fabrication, 3D printing, and much more. Imagine sensors on every piece of hardware, connected directly or indirectly to the Internet, generating vast amounts of data – Big Data. Software applications will distill this data into useful information so companies can make better, timelier decisions.

Cost-effective small-batch production
With machine-to-machine communications, production can be broken down into smaller, self-controlled modules able to reconfigure quickly for a product change and perform tasks autonomously, making small batch or customized production much more cost effective than it is today. Producers are able to work more closely with customers and even end users.

A maker of bath soap can bottle a small batch of a new scent to see if it flies with consumers. An ice-cream maker can produce more exotic flavors, a brewer more seasonal or regional brew recipes. Retailers can test-market more products or new packaging. Production capacity can be augmented by adding modules, and only those modules needed to fulfill orders operate at any given time. The whole plant isn’t idled by a system breakdown. Less warehousing is required all along the value chain from suppliers to consumers.

The enhanced data feedback from these networked systems can pinpoint opportunities to reduce energy use or recognize minor faults before they can grow into major problems. It might be as simple as a pump wearing down and drawing too much electricity. Cross-referencing current with historical data makes the declining efficiency of that pump apparent. For a utility, recognizing a sudden pressure drop could be the sign of a small leak in a water main before it turns into a larger and more damaging one.

All that said, Industry 4.0 promises to be more evolutionary than revolutionary, with technologies phased in over many years. Some of the already accessible benefits are focusing on remote and mobile control of production or facilities, and real-time, enhanced diagnostic capabilities for better operational and energy efficiency.

Some Industry 4.0-ready equipment reaching markets can be used now on a standalone basis and incorporated into a cloud-based IT network later. One example: Festo’s newMSE6-E2M energy efficiency module for regulating pneumatic air supplies also generates continuous performance data for relevant processes that’s useful in its own right.

Germans setting universal standards
Industry 4.0 promises to agnostic about whom it serves. Most of the world is looking to Germany to develop global standards for Industry 4.0/IIoT deployment; this is not likely to become a VHS-versus-Betamax clash of competing technologies. Already, OPC UA (OPC Unified Architecture) has become the default standard for connecting machines to other machines and to the Internet.

German standards’ development is focusing on RAMI 4.0 – Reference Architectural Model for Industry 4.0 – to reference how various components, different systems, all fit into the entire operation, from the process to the product and how it all connects to IT and the Internet.

The efficiency gains, enhanced intelligence gathering capacity and cost-effective smaller batch production capability will help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as larger ones and provide additional opportunities for the former to compete with the latter.

Indeed, SMEs are the prime target for Industry 4.0 deployment in Germany. Yet German SMEs aren’t rushing to invest in it outside of the normal amortization cycle.

“So I don’t think Canada is behind,” says Ben Hope, Technology Driver for Industry 4.0 at Festo Canada. “Ontario in particular has a strong base in machine builders, a strong technology hub in Kitchener Waterloo, and academic programs to promote advanced manufacturing. We have a chance to become a world class leader in manufacturing equipment that can cater to Industry 4.0.”

Canadian firms becoming more aware
There is growing interest in the Canadian process sector of what Industry 4.0 can deliver, says Jack Cabral, Process Automation Manager at Festo Canada. Some firms have started their due diligence into technologies that might benefit them, but many will take a wait-and-see attitude before proceeding. Also data security breaches have greater consequence within the PA industry “so many process companies are going to vet those technologies through (the experience of) factory automation,” says Jack Cabral.

Many of the same global automation companies that are driving development of Industry 4.0/IIoT production technology– like Festo, Siemens, Beckhoff, Emerson, ABB, Pepperl+Fuchs, Honeywell and Eaton – are familiar to Canadian PA companies and will help them enter that world. Tech companies like Microsoft, SAP, Cisco and Intel are providing cloud computing platforms for client firms to analyze their Big Data in a dashboard or ERP or MES system.

Other firms, including some Canadian-based, are offering enhanced data analytics and digital security.

A lot of the groundwork has been done, or will be shortly. Now the technologies have to be joined.

Hence, the increased interest across the Canadian industrial spectrum. The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and the Canadian Process Control Association are ratcheting up their involvement. So is government. The CME is urging a national strategy for encouraging adoption of advanced manufacturing.

Programs like the CME/Ontario government Smart Program to help small and medium-sized business adopt advanced manufacturing technologies are fully subscribed. “These kinds of services are going to start to pop up all over the place as people see the potential for Industry 4.0,” says Ben Hope.

Rising interest in the process sector is reflected in the informational activities being undertaken by the CPCA and sector associations, says Jack Cabral.

“The water/wastewater industry is doing it, the biotech/pharma industry is doing it, and everyone is reaching out and grabbing as much information as they can now and are being asked by their members to do so.”

by David Gersovitz