Industry 4.0 is a concept that started in Europe, and to date, still has seen its widest acceptance there. Quickly, though, various aspects of the smart factory are beginning to take shape and be implemented elsewhere around the globe.
One need look no closer than what makers of various rubber and tire related machinery are starting to do. And it wasn't that long ago that automation was something that those in rubber industry struggled to make a viable option in the sector. That's far from the case anymore.
HF Group is investing significantly to increase its presence in automation, most notably through its acquisition of Mesabi Control Engineering Ltd., a Minnesota-based provider of automation systems and software. The head of Mesabi said automation is one of the fastest growing segments in the rubber industry.
Troester is looking at automation in a number of its processes, including a system to scan the inside of the tread after it has passed the extrusion head to see that the various components are all properly aligned. And Bartell is working on an integrated bead inspection system that would leverage Industry 4.0 attributes to give tire makers a technology that would allow close to 100 percent of beads to be inspected, compared with the current rate of 10 percent.
A speaker from MonTech said at HF's International Mixing Seminar that companies in the U.S. and elsewhere are investing billions toward artificial intelligence development. By 2020 he said about 1.7 million industrial robots will be introduced into the global marketplace. Countries such as Germany, Japan and South Korea are investing so these technologies can work in small plants all the way up to the large global factories.
China will be in the fray, hoping to pass the U.S. as the most innovative nation by 2049, with Industry 4.0 as one of the main tools to achieve that.
Many of these innovations have a ways to go. It's one thing to prove a technology in a laboratory setting, and quite another in a full-scale manufacturing setting. But if successful, the technology will enable firms to collect much more data. The trick will be to figure out how to best use this to improve processes, boost quality and help increase profitability.
In manufacturing, isn't that the ultimate win-win?