NOVI, Mich.—The concept of Industry 4.0—the fourth industrial revolution utilizing smart factories, automation, integration and the internet of things—is just a "build-out from Henry Ford" and his installation of the modern assembly line, or Industry 2.0.
That's according to James Ricci, moderator of the Manufacturing 4.0 and the Automated Factory closing panel at the Plastics and Rubber in Automotive conference, held recently in Novi.
"Industry 3.0 was really when we started to pull in some kinds of automation, whether it was robots, it was the advent of computer and controllers. It all started to get introduced into manufacturing," said Ricci, who is also chief technology officer of Harbour Results Inc. "Then, in the '80s, we were able to shrink the world through globalization and extend our enterprise with these same types of tools like computers, and we really call that Industry 3.5. … Maybe we'll have an Industry 5.0. Maybe what Industry 4.5 is, is this idea of taking artificial intelligence and deep learning and having man and machine kind of work together to really eliminate waste and improve efficiency. That's really what we're talking about here."
Ricci described technology like the human body as it relates to Industry 4.0: The muscles are automation, the sensors are robots and the nervous system is the connectivity.
"Nobody really talks about the nervous system, but it's pretty important, and that's your IT infrastructure that kind of makes all this stuff work and function together and communicate and talk properly. And then most importantly in Industry 4.0 is all of this feeds up in your brain, and that's the critical piece because it's actually where we make ourselves smarter," he said.
Shaun Karn, president of large mold builder Hi-Tech Mold and Engineering Inc. and Baxter Enterprises L.L.C., said that in terms of applying Industry 4.0, he is looking at more data collection and using data to help predict things or make better decisions.
Automotive supplier Faurecia North America Advanced Manufacturing and Supply Chain Director Matt Myrand said the company's digital transformation is driven by the customer.
"They want a lower cost, they want higher quality, and they want more data-driven, less downtime for our machines," Myrand said.
Michelle Bockman, global head of 3D printing commercial expansion and development at HP Inc., said it's a common misconception that HP is just a 2D printer or PC company. The company decided in 2015 to go into the 3D printing market, and it is starting to ship the first industrial printers in mid-2017, she said.
"We're fairly new in this market, and automotive is definitely a focus for us," Bockman said. "Our customers, when you look at Industry 4.0, we see that our customers are looking for productivity. They're looking to design things that they could never design before, whether it's lattice structures, things that are harder to design in traditional manufacturing and (harder to) make. We're really just helping customers with different business models and different, faster ways to get to market."
The business drivers behind Industry 4.0, Bockman said, involve "customization and personalization" as well as cost and time to market. Karn agreed, saying the biggest drivers are "looking at cost and looking at efficiencies."
So, what happens to old equipment in the age of Industry 4.0? Machines do not need to be tossed aside, but they can be upgraded or retrofitted to keep up with changing technology, panelists said.
"We have machines that are 30 years old; we have machines that are three months old," Myrand said. "The challenges are what type of sensors, what type of data, how do we connect those types of machines to actually pull the data and put it in the pile of data. But there are environmental sensors, there's vibration sensors that you can mount externally to all the machines, so you can still get a lot of data—maybe not a full range of one of the modern machines that are out there—but there's still a plethora of data that you can pull from and then really use that to apply."
Just start somewhere, said Michael McGrath, director of automotive and manufacturing at SAS Institute Inc., a business analytics software and services company.
"I think everyone in this room, you … would have certain issues where you could potentially improve yield, ultimately reducing scrap, so you know what your pet projects are—I would start with something. … There are lots of cloud-based systems you can leverage to be able to grab analytics tools on demand that are very user-friendly that could help you," McGrath said.
Ricci, the panel moderator, said 95 percent of all manufacturing done in the U.S. is done by companies with 100 or fewer employees. He then asked what experience is needed on staff to implement the Industry 4.0 type of technology.
All of the experience can be taught, Myrand said, adding that "the will and the drive and the desire to do it and the management support" need to be present.
"I think a lot of people, when they think about Industry 4.0 or manufacturing analytics in general, are scared and think it's heavy coding behavior and things like that. Most analytics companies that are out there, ourselves included, have taken from the hard coding portions of it to more of a drag-and-drop type of environment," McGrath said.
Bockman said it may be easier for companies to hire industrial manufacturing workers and teach them software skills than to hire software developers and teach them manufacturing skills.
"If you can get both," she said, "it's beautiful."
The return on investment for the technology depends on the investment itself.
"We've found, usually in less than a year, that we see a payback on that—in some cases four to five months—just for the mere fact of increase in the productivity in what you're able to accomplish and then couple that with any predictive maintenance software that's included on there that will prevent downtime. All of you understand what your cost is per hour based on your downtime; it adds up pretty quickly when you're able to avoid a lot of those things and, on top of that, improve the efficiency in the organization," Karn said.
McGrath said he would echo Karn's claims.
"What we find, for my teams globally, we lead with value first," McGrath said. "We'll work with different manufacturers and go in and identify specific cases that are impactful to the business because, as Shaun (Karn) pointed out, if you're making an incremental investment in both software, which comes with both software implications unless you're deploying the cloud, we see, for most of the large companies that we work with, we see return on investment, these (processes) paying for themselves within the first year and then some."