As general manager of Ingenics’s Atlanta operation, Andreas Heinzelmann shares his insights on Industry 4.0 and how it is revolutionizing manufacturing with intelligent solutions for the digital transformation of assembly, production and logistics.
What is Industry 4.0 and how is it creating “smart factories”?
A: Industry 4.0 describes the image of intelligent information technology that connects each of the individual players within a value creation network. This includes manufacturing, logistics and products (internet of things), as well as service systems (internet of services) and the integration of customers and information about their surroundings (internet of people).
This approach is supported by the increased use of technologies, such as sensors, actuators, RFID, smart devices, lightweight robots, cloud technology and AI — to name only a few.
In that sense, it is already possible to say that the basis of smart factories has been established through networking and digitization combined with a new level of automation, driven by new and affordable technologies.
However, the smart factory is not an end in itself. It is about product improvements and greater productivity on the one hand and the development of new business models on the road toward an industrial ecosystem.
Q: What is the role of Ingenics Atlanta in the use and implementation of Industry 4.0?
A: As an expert for implementing manufacturing and logistics solutions for greenfield or brownfield projects of our customers, we are focusing on lean processes and maximum efficiency. Therefore, we include in all our concept developments new technologies, which utilize the vast potential of Industry 4.0 applications, with the target to maximize the efficiency and to implement sustainable solutions.
We are basically the link between our customers and Industry 4.0. By analyzing their processes and environment to define what applications are out there, make sense of it and then implement a tailored solution according to their needs.
What are the four design principles behind Industry 4.0, which a factory must implement in order to be deemed a “smart factory?”
A: Interoperability: The ability to (intelligently) network different systems, technologies and organizations both within an individual business and beyond the company with all parties involved in the same value creation network.
Information transparency: The ability to make real-time information available in digital form and to provide evaluations that suit the user/context (big data and business intelligence).
Technical assistance: Supporting people in the work system through the use of smart devices, wearable technology, or similar innovations (e.g. virtual reality, watches, smart glasses) as well as intelligent, autonomous transport systems and lightweight robots.
Decentralized decisions: Autonomous, rule-based decision-making at the local level (e.g. machines and parts) without the use of higher-level centralized systems.
How is Industry 4.0 impacting the workforce and influencing social change?
A: Industry 4.0 is having a massive impact on existing work systems. Work processes, materials and even places of work are changing. However, the nature and extent of these changes depend significantly on the company and the tasks of each employee.
This means that organizations, management systems and qualification concepts need to be adapted individually in line with the new basic conditions. When it comes to change, there is a thin line between opportunity and risk.
Positive effects may range from greater flexibility in terms of working hours and place of work to physical relief, the integration of people with fewer qualifications and older workers and the creation of new jobs. These are countered by potential risks such as the downgrading of jobs, digital dementia, a blurred distinction between work and free time and the elimination of existing jobs.
Individual points can be solved internally by businesses. Others, call for change in society and amendments to the legal framework.
What are some of the challenges in implementing Industry 4.0, such as IT security issues and the reliability needed for machine-to-machine communication?
A: Data security is one of the greatest risks today, and this will remain true in the age of Industry 4.0.
A clear strategy definition is crucial for success in addition to effective data security. The aim is not simply to introduce Industry 4.0, but to use Industry 4.0 in a profitable way. Industry 4.0 is based on networks and data. This means that processes are clearly structured (lean) and that up-to-date information is available in digital form.
Moreover, in addition to interface and logging formats, there are massive challenges both in terms of trust with respect to intercompany data exchange and in terms of the availability of technical infrastructure.
The human factor is often neglected. Introducing elements of Industry 4.0 usually entails a massive change process that affects all organizational units and every level of the hierarchy. It is important to manage the change process proactively in order to ensure a high level of effectiveness in the long term.
Industry 4.0 has received a lot of buzz, yet few companies have incorporated it into their business model. Why not? What can businesses do to embrace it?
A: The proportion of companies biding their time and observing the market is falling considerably. However, the level of implementation in companies is very different. Some of our customers are concentrating on digitizing value creation, often with a focus on production and logistics, while others are already developing new business models and bringing these to the market.
Major barriers include a lack of knowledge and resources, unclear profitability, the necessary high level of willingness to change across the organization, and a clearly defined strategy that allows the impact of measures to be quantified.
With respect to Industry 4.0, SMEs in particular will no longer be able to develop all the required competences within the company. Here it is a question of arriving at make-or-buy decisions for the required know-how, just as companies did in the past when considering the depth of in-house production — and this is also a central component of the digitization strategy.
Ultimately, of course, it is also important to involve partners that have proven implementation skills and technological expertise, as well as the necessary knowledge in the relevant domains of industry and processes. Only in this way can projects be realized efficiently and successfully.
What types of industries are best suited for Industry 4.0?
A: Basically all industries are able to improve their processes by implementing Industry 4.0 solutions. Important is to match the available applications with what the customer and industry really needs, which makes the processes more efficient and at the end, of course, has a positive business case.
As an example, BI solutions to process a vast amount of data in real time with prediction functions can be implemented in any supply chain, material flow or production planning process. This can be done in a high volume automotive production, but also in any hospital to steer the supply of materials, etc.
Automotive OEMs, along with their supporting network of Tier 1 and Tier 2 and 3PL suppliers are key clients. How has Ingenics used Industry 4.0 in the automotive industry and with its suppliers?
A: We have completed a series of extremely successful projects involving Industry 4.0 applications in production, logistics and administration.
In addition to strategy definition, these center on the application of business intelligence and big data solutions as well as the introduction of human-robot collaboration in assembly and manufacturing.
For us, it is even more important that our customers benefit a great deal from the additional expertise we have accumulated in research and development projects, which feeds directly into our consulting services. The focus here is on human-centered introduction strategies because, despite such a high level of automation, nothing can work without people, even in the world of Industry 4.0.
How will manufacturing be revolutionized by Industry 4.0 in the next few years?
A: We know that foreseeable developments today will not end with factories that contain no people. The human factor will continue to play a key role in automotive production, but the tasks people have will change.
Cognitive and physical abilities will stand alongside the repeat accuracy, precision and endurance of robots — and the resulting collaboration will be optimized. Such changes will affect all areas, from product development and manufacturing to logistics and service.
Traditional straight and staggered production lines will cease to exist for small series in shell construction and assembly, being replaced by more flexible structures. Flexibility and the ability to transform will take on new dimensions in production.
TEXT By JESSICA ARMSTRONG // Photo by Matthew Franklin Carter