The implications of Industry 4.0 and the impact it will have on industrial processes around the world will be profound. But guess what? The revolution’s already here. It’s happening. The question is, are you ready to start adopting Industry 4.0 technologies?
Praveen Kannan, National Product Manager for SICK’s Industry 4.0 platform, shares how the company’s new Inspection Plus Tracking (IT+) solution is bringing manufacturers up to speed with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
If the vision of Industry 4.0 is to be realised, enterprises must step further into the realms of digitalisation. A critical element of this evolution is the move from traditional supply chains towards a connected, smart and highly efficient supply chain ecosystem. I4.0 is bringing down walls. Read more
As part of its company-wide digitisation strategy DHL is further expanding the deployment of Smart Glasses and wearables to support vision picking processes in its warehouses.
As one of the first customers worldwide, DHL will now use the second-generation of Glass Enterprise Edition.
Augmented reality in the warehouse is driving a more accurate, productive and efficient picking process, says DHL.
While user-friendly and intuitive, hands-free picking is providing a positive experience and high approval rating among employees.
The successful use of smart glasses in contract logistics has also convinced other DHL business units. In the future, DHL Express will also use these wearables in its hubs.
“With the second generation of Glass Enterprise Edition, we can now provide our customers and employees with even more powerful, technically optimized smart glasses. The possibility of object recognition is also particularly promising for us in industrial applications. With the corresponding software, it is no longer just possible to read out barcodes, locate products and display the corresponding storage compartment; in future, also complex objects can be identified with the smart glasses. We expect this to lead to further productivity increases from which our employees and our customers will benefit equally,” Markus Voss, COO and CIO of DHL Supply Chain said.
Caterpillar is to supply machinery and autonomous technology for Rio Tinto’s Koodaideri iron ore project in the Pilbara, Western Australia.
The scope of the equipment includes 20 autonomous 793F trucks and four autonomous blast drills, in addition to automation technologies and enterprise systems.
Caterpillar will complement Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future program by integrating data analytics technologies to boost production and safety.
“The Caterpillar team is looking forward to working with Rio Tinto to apply our proven mining equipment and technology and to implement additional MineStar autonomy solutions at Koodaideri — a new mine designed to capitalise on leading-edge technology,” Caterpillar group president Resource Industries Denise Johnson said.
“We are excited to work together to advance Rio Tinto’s mine automation and digitalisation program.”
Rio Tinto’s $3.8 billion Koodaideri development is the company’s next major project in the Pilbara region. It is expected to create 600 permanent jobs over a 30-year mine life.
The project is pencilled for a production start date of late 2021 and will produce up to 43 million tonnes of iron ore a year.
Western Australian Cat dealer WesTrac will organise the supply of the equipment to Koodaideri. The agreement between the two companies will create 50 new Western Australia-based roles.
Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said the partnership would build “the most technology-enabled and innovative mine” in the company’s Pilbara iron ore network.
“Technology is rapidly changing our mining operations as we harness innovation to make our operations safer, smarter and more productive. This extension of our partnership with Caterpillar and WesTrac represents an exciting step for our business,” Salisbury said.
Many have written about the impact that Industry 4.0 will have on warehousing and distribution and why companies should embrace this fourth industrial revolution. But if you own or operate a small warehouse or distribution centre, you may be thinking: “How will Industry 4.0 help me?” or: “Isn’t this only for big companies?”
Yet many of the benefits of I4.0 will extend to small operations.
I4.0 includes technologies like the Internet of Things (machines talking to machines), big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, as well as collaborative robotics. And there are five very strong reasons why they will make automation a worthwhile investment for even smaller warehouse operations.
- True plug & play
Traditionally, automated material handling systems required a significant amount of project-specific engineering, control coding and software. Conveyor systems, for example, often need specific PLC code to optimise behaviour, such as priorities at a merging point. These ‘traffic rules’ are different for each layout and also depend on the user’s exact processes.
The costs of customising, installing and commissioning a system do not have a linear relationship to size. While the overhead may be a small proportion for large systems, on smaller systems those costs could represent up to 40% of the total installation.
By combining IoT principles with artificial intelligence and machine learning, this problem can be overcome. Imagine that you will simply place conveyor elements (or any other automated equipment) on the floor. Each element will automatically identify itself to all others and ‘connect’ to its neighbours, allowing the system to map itself and understand how it looks.
“All of these observations show that the real growth in warehouse automation will not only be with traditional, large systems.”
Meanwhile, applying big data analytics to the current, still manual operation will provide an understanding of the warehouse user processes. This allows the establishment of a first, base-line logic for running the new automated system. Once the physical automated systems are placed and used, machine learning will quickly determine how to use the equipment better and set the right traffic rules to match the system’s layout and user processes.
All this means that no more project-specific coding of controls and software will be required, significantly reducing the overhead costs to a level where automation becomes compelling for small operations.
- Smart systems can adapt to warehouses built for humans
Most warehouses, and certainly small ones, have been designed to be operated by humans. They have rows of shelving and people with trolleys walking through them to collect orders. Until recently, implementing automation would require these processes to be completely replaced.
Automated systems, such as robots, used to require a very clearly defined environment that was free of unexpected interruptions. And whilst a manual warehouse may look very organised, there are many small deviations that are easy for people to deal with; just imagine a larger product overhanging a few centimetres into the next storage location, or a worker leaving their trolley in the aisle for a few minutes to use the restroom.
Changing a warehouse like that is a big step that could easily cause disruptions and risk. Yet a new generation of collaborative robots is emerging. These robots are not only safe to work alongside humans, but also use advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to adapt to changing circumstances.
Now companies can simply deploy one or two collaborative robots within their current operation. Humans can work alongside the robots, eliminating the need for drastic changes to the warehouse or the processes.
Over time, more robots can be added to gradually increase the level of automation.
- Small companies don’t want to stay small
Many of the small companies in the field of logistics plan to grow, sometimes very quickly. Most early-stage e-commerce companies have big ambitions, but exactly how fast, or in what direction they will develop is uncertain. This means any automation will need to be flexible so the company can start small, but scale fast when growing.
New technology such as autonomous mobile robots are perfect for this scenario. You can start with only a few. Due to peer-to-peer communication and intelligent software these vehicles are easy to implement, providing payback even in small numbers. Still, when the time comes to expand, this is as easy as buying (or leasing) more vehicles, placing them in your warehouse and powering them up.
The new vehicles will identify themselves to the existing ones and the entire fleet will adapt and optimise itself to make best use of the new robot-colleagues.
Another example of easily designing for growth is the Hasbro distribution centre in Preston operated by Toll. The modular sorter and conveyor are easy to expand as the need for product picking and despatch grow. In the meantime, the operation benefits from reduced costs and can handle more retail fulfilment cartons than you would expect from a traditional style warehouse.
- Smart distribution networks will help keep warehouses small
This may seem contradictory to the previous point, and indeed it applies to a different group of companies. E-commerce is pushing the boundaries of delivery times. Same-day delivery is increasingly an expectation and offered by many companies in larger population areas. By default, this requires products to be stored close to consumers in areas where there is often little space to build a warehouse.
To help keep warehouses small and still keep service levels high, Industry 4.0-related science is being used. Predictive shipping is one example, where goods will be shipped from a central warehouse to a smaller urban warehouse even before you order it. This concept relies on big data to understand and accurately predict customer behaviour.
The other method is distributed order fulfilment. A specific product may be available within the customer’s area at any number of locations. These locations could be the seller’s urban warehouses, a third party warehouse, a store, or even awaiting pick-up at the home of a customer who wants to return it. By connecting all these sources in a real-time network, the most efficient source location for the product can be found. Again, big data and artificial intelligence will manage the complexity of this process, while blockchain technology will allow secure transfer of data and money between potentially competing providers.
- Small companies are entrepreneurial – but may have limited cash
Investing in automation requires a long-term vision, combined with an entrepreneurial approach. This is even more true when investing in new, ground-breaking technologies. This mindset is often found at small-to-medium size companies or founder-owned companies. Decision processes can be shorter, which can make it easier to realise a vision. This is why small start-ups are often at the forefront of adopting new technology.
Cash may be a challenge, and investing in automation typically requires serious capital investment. But here new technology may also help.
Traditional automated systems have been highly customised and demanding to install, remove or change. Uncertainty about the company’s future, linked to an asset with very little value outside of that company, will lead to expensive financing.
‘Plug & play’, self-learning and high flexibility also implies that it will be just as easy to re-use equipment somewhere else. This re-use capability will reduce financing risk, making it less expensive. It will also support different models such as rental or leasing.
All of these observations show that the real growth in warehouse automation will not only be with traditional, large systems. While those systems will always be there and also become infinitely smarter, they will be fewer in quantity compared to the thousands of small warehouses that have historically been too small to automate.
With Industry 4.0, size will not matter anymore.
Tom Rentschler is head of marketing for Swisslog WDS Americas. For more information visit www.swisslog.com.
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Microsoft and the BMW Group have announced a new community initiative to enable faster, more cost-effective innovation in the manufacturing sector.
The two organisations will establish an Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP). The initiative is expected to support the development of smart factory solutions that will be shared by OMP participants across the automotive and broader manufacturing sectors.
According to both organisations, the goal is to significantly accelerate future industrial IoT developments, shorten time to value and drive production efficiencies while addressing common industrial challenges.
“Microsoft is joining forces with the BMW Group to transform digital production efficiency across the industry. Our commitment to building an open community will create new opportunities for collaboration across the entire manufacturing value chain,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud + AI Group said.
With currently over 3,000 machines, robots and autonomous transport systems connected with the BMW Group IoT platform, which is built on MicrosoftAzure’s cloud, IoT and AI capabilities, the BMW Group plans to contribute relevant initial use cases to the OMP community.
“Mastering the complex task of producing individualised premium products requires innovative IT and software solutions. The interconnection of production sites and systems as well as the secure integration of partners and suppliers are particularly important. We have been relying on the cloud since 2016 and are consistently developing new approaches. With the Open Manufacturing Platform as the next step, we want to make our solutions available to other companies and jointly leverage potential in order to secure our strong position in the market in the long term,” Oliver Zipse, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production said.
The OMP will be designed to address common industrial challenges such as machine connectivity and on-premises systems integration. This will facilitate the reuse of software solutions among OEMs, suppliers and other partners, significantly reducing implementation costs. For example, an ROS-based robotics standard for autonomous transport systems for production and logistics will be contributed to the OMP for everyone to use. The OMP will be compatible with the existing Industry 4.0 reference architecture, leveraging the industrial interoperability standard OPC UA.
Amazon and Volkswagen have announced a multi-year, global agreement to build the Volkswagen Industrial Cloud, a cloud-based Industrial digital production platform that will transform the automotive company’s manufacturing and logistics processes.
Volkswagen will rely upon the breadth and depth of Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) portfolio of services, including IoT, machine learning, analytics, and compute services to increase plant efficiency and uptime, improve production flexibility, and increase vehicle quality.
The Volkswagen Industrial Cloud will bring together real-time data from all of the Volkswagen Group’s 122 manufacturing plants to manage the overall effectiveness of assembly equipment, as well as track parts and vehicles.
“We will continue to strengthen production as a key competitive factor for theVolkswagen Group. Our strategic collaboration with AWS will lay the foundation. The Volkswagen Group, with its global expertise in automobile production, and AWS, with its technological know-how, complement each other extraordinarily well. With our global industry platform we want to create a growing industrial ecosystem with transparency and efficiency bringing benefits to all concerned,” Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG and Member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft responsible for ‘Production’ said.
“Volkswagen’s industrial cloud, which will reinvent its manufacturing and logistics processes, is yet another example of how Volkswagen continues to innovate and lead. Volkswagen’s and AWS’s collaboration will have a profound impact on efficiency and quality in production throughout Volkswagen’s global supply chain, as Volkswagen gains access to the broadest and deepest cloud with the most functionality, the most innovation, the highest performance and security, and the largest community of partners and customers of any other infrastructure provider. We are tightly aligned across Volkswagen’s businesses to help them reimagine the future of automobile manufacturing by taking advantage of all the benefits the cloud can deliver,” Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS said.
Representatives from Swinburne, the Victorian Defence Alliances (VDA) and the Australian Defence Alliance have signed a letter of agreement at the Avalon Airshow to explore Industry 4.0 opportunities.
The agreement was signed in late-February by Swinburne pro vice-chancellor Professor Alan Kin-tak Lau, Victorian Defence Alliances manager Charlotte Morris, and Australian Defence Alliance CEO Claire Willette.
VDA Submarines will work with Swinburne to co-host an Industry 4.0 workshop for a group of 20 or more member companies to introduce the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre futuremap tool.
Futuremap is a business diagnostic tool that helps Australian manufacturing SMEs assess their current state of business and identify areas of focus and potential investment to transform and future-proof their business.
Following the workshop, two of the participating companies will take part in a digital capability assessment.
The partnership between Swinburne and VDA is part of the recently established Advanced Manufacturing Industry 4.0 Hub at Swinburne that is pioneering a new model of university-industry collaboration where businesses and universities co-create business strategy as well as technology.
Swinburne is embracing the Industry 4.0 era, using digital technologies to create social and economic impact through science, technology and innovation.
Swinburne deputy vice-chancellor Professor Aleksandar Subic said the adoption of new generation digital technologies and processes is crucial due to the highly competitive environment of manufacturing internationally.
About Victorian Defence Alliances
The Victorian Defence Alliances have been established through a partnership between the Australian Defence Alliance – Victoria and the State government of Victoria. Membership of the Alliances is open to all Victorian companies seeking to supply products and services to the national and international defence industry market.