A move to change attitudes to Industry 4.0 in the rubber industry was the focus of the Postscript article in the Sept/Oct issue of ERJ magazine:
Industry 4.0 is a term coined for the next stage of manufacturing, in which machines, processes, control systems, logistics and even end products are closely interconnected via internet-based, data-handling technologies and devices.
For the many who see it as a conservative sector, the rubber industry is not expected to be at the forefront of developments in this the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – after the eras of steam-powered mechanisation, mass production and digital automation.
But not everyone sees things that way.
At a presentation at moulding machine maker Desma’s facility in Fridingen, Germany, the company showcased an Industry 4.0 concept – a fully automated rubber injection moulding cell, with robotics, producing parts carrying QR codes. Information from the QR code could be sent to the Cloud, where a web application enabled the data to be accessed by computers or mobile devices.
Hoepfner went on to say: “Industry 4.0 is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. We want to nudge the rubber industry to pick this theme up and think more about connected manufacturing.
“The networking and connectivity technology is already there. Maybe Industry 4.0 will look completely different in 10 years’ time but now the rubber industry can talk about it and discuss what direction it is taking.”
Traceability is one of the main selling points, said Hoepfner citing how the technology could be used to quickly trace the source of a failure in an automotive component several years after its production, and seamlessly identify all other moulded parts potentially carrying the same fault.
To exploit such possibilities, the Desma expert sees a need for all parties in the rubber manufacturing sector to work more closely together.
There are, he added, still some technical barriers on the road to Industry 4.0, not least a lack of industry-wide standardisation around how different cyber/physical devices exchange data with each other.
“I have not seen a useful approach to this problem,” said Hoepfner. “If my fridge is intelligent, my watch is intelligent and my rubber injection moulding machine is intelligent, what do they need to share information? Standardisation is lacking across all industries, not just rubber.”
Given its conservatism, however, and the continuing pressure it faces from low-cost manufacturing regions, won’t the European rubber industry be near the end of the line when it comes to adopting Industry 4.0?
Not so, insisted Desma managing director Martin Schürmann in a separate interview with ERJ.
“This is often seen as a traditional industry but, in terms of materials science, the rubber industry is not conservative,” he said. “Companies are very innovative, it is just a matter of getting more interaction between materials science, processing and production.”
“We can use our tools and machines within the Industry 4.0 approach to form part of a bigger, larger system, developing them and better understanding the needs of the market.”
The challenge, so, for engineers and managers in the rubber sector is to shake off any scepticism they have towards Industry 4.0 and explore how connected-manufacturing can shape the industry and its markets going forward.