Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT)

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New technologies and Applications to manage active interaction with the shop floor in manufacturing processes and in Smart Factory

After the macro phases of grow of the economy characterized by the advent of steam power and mechanization, electricity and mass production, computer and automation, “Industry 4.0” identifies a new era based on communication and cybernetics, with a high integration between real and virtual world. The move to the new world will be the result of a long term transformation, but some innovative elements in terms of available technologies and applications are already evident in the market and they influence the behavior of people and the organization of companies.

Ethica consulting is working side by side with its enterprise customers in the implementation of technologies and solutions to interconnect engineering with operations and finance, providing an integrated flow of data among products, machines, production lines, operators and managers, which is the basis of the incoming Industry 4.0 scenarios.

Demand for industrial products customized according to customer needs, frequent requests of single units or small size lots, value shift from product to service: these are only examples of the emerging trends that manufacturing companies have to deal with, in order to keep competitive edge in their specific market.

All enterprise processes are potentially impacted, but the strongest “changes” are interesting at present the engineering. The production and the shop-floor area, where each manufacturing company has been traditionally developing and applying its own original processes which contributed to raise the brand identity and the market reputation in the years.

Flexibility in product design, engineering and configuration of production lines, capability to react in real-time to changes, decentralization of decisions on mobile devices, predictive maintenance of machines, artificial intelligence, energy saving, sustainability, are the key evolution lines that are driving the investments in the growing companies. These are also at present, in concrete, the innovation areas of Industry 4.0.

The incoming “Smart Factory” will be characterized by the adoption of the new technologies. While 3D Printers create a direct link between engineering and execution, an extensive deployment of specific devices and sensors will capture a large amount of real-time data from the production lines using “Internet of Things” connectivity platforms. Data will be sent to data centers, on premise or cloud, powerful enough to analyze raw data and transform it into valuable information by Big Data Analytics. Shop Floor will exchange data in real time with the new enterprise management systems, from Manufacturing Execution to Supply Chain, to Client Engagement and Commerce, to Finance, making more ERP processes more reactive and enabling predictive applications. In the assembly lines the products will be able to drive the scheduling of operations interacting with the production machines and with warehouse automatic systems (Smart Factory).

Most of these technologies, both hardware and software, are already available and can be implemented today to interconnect processes, machines, products and operators, implementing de-facto the first applications of Industry 4.0.

Several companies are already on this track, moving quickly to new scenarios. Most common needs are at present the tracking of production activities, the digitalization or “dematerialization of paper documents” still widely used in the production environment, the integration between shop floor and ERP processes. In parallel 3D Printers are being tested, with this new technology expanding from Mechatronic to other Industry segments and involving not only prototyping but also small production series.

Some companies are using “Internet of Things” technology also outside the traditional shop floor environment. As an example, they use IoT connectivity platforms to keep a link with the product after it has been sold, getting data from it while working in real life conditions. Data collected from remote products can be used to predict failure events (predictive maintenance) or to collect new user behaviors, working then to increase the services level to the customer: this is a key strategy to increase the customer sentiment and fidelity, an asset in today’s iper-competitive markets.

Since its foundation, Ethica Consulting, with its companies ICM.S SRL and Espedia SRL, has been working side by side both with discrete and process manufacturing companies. With these Clients, Ethica Consulting has already been developing “connected manufacturing” projects, implementing SAP Manufacturing suite (including SAP ME and SAP MII), more and more often powered by SAP HANA® technology.

In parallel, with its companies Altitudo SRL and Concert SRL specialized in Microsoft technology and solutions, the group went also outside of shop floor and developed the first business cases of Internet of Things related to the analysis of data collected in the field about products, services and environment, using the powerful Microsoft Azure IoT suite and Sales, Marketing and Service applications of Microsoft Dynamics.

Ethica Consulting developed then partnerships with companies specialized on IoT connectivity platforms and technologies, getting knowledge and experience in capturing and moving data from the physical world into a business management processes, according to the specific customer requirements.