So much has been written about Industry 4.0, but there still are misperceptions about the concept. Plastics News’ machinery reporter Bill Bregar went right to an expert: Heinz Gaub, the managing director of technology and engineering at Arburg GmbH + Co KG.
In wide-ranging interview, Gaub talks about how important Industry 4.0 is to Germany. And he gives a glimpse of a future of ever-more complex production cells and sensors that tell when industrial equipment needs to be fixed or replaced.
Q: First let’s define Industry 4.0 and the other earlier “Industry” periods.
Industry 1.0 was the first industrial revolution in the 1700s, with breakthroughs like the steam engine.
Industry 2.0 is mass production beginning in the 1800s — textile mills, railroads, steel.
Industry 3.0 began in the 1960s and continues today — automation, electronics and controls.
And now we have Industry 4.0 — the age of information technology. I have heard this began around 1990. When do you think it began?
We were ahead of our time with this technology. At the time, the system was already controlled using an early version of the ALS Arburg host computer system, which we have continued to develop ever since. Today, ALS, together with the Selogica control system, is a key element in our Industry 4.0 solutions.
Q: What is your vision of Industry 4.0? This means tying everything together in a factory, right?
Gaub: The term Industry 4.0 mainly describes the smart factory in which machines, workpieces and logistical peripherals are networked through information technology. At present, Arburg is the only system supplier in the industry which allows its customers to produce plastic parts in batches as small as one unit through the combination of industrial injection moulding, additive manufacturing and Industry 4.0 technologies.
In my opinion only a company that can individualise large-batch parts in a personalised production process, producing batches as small as one unit cost effectively, integrating customers and their specific requirements directly in the added-value chain, can really call itself a provider of cyber-physical production systems and make a genuine contribution to the development of the ‘Smart Factory’ and ‘Industry 4.0’.
Q: Germany is a world leader for plastics machinery — and other types of industrial machines. It is very export-driven and stresses technology. How important is it for Germany to lead in — and promote actively — Industry 4.0?
Gaub: Germany is a highly industrialised country and internationally very competitive because of its advanced manufacturing technologies. That’s why Industry 4.0 is so important for Germany. This issue is promoted by initiatives like the “Industry 4.0 Guidelines” published by the VDMA, to which we made a key contribution as a leading member of the sector.
The challenge for processors, therefore, is to control the factory of the future for themselves. In other words, production data will no longer be managed centrally, but will be displayed and evaluated on a mobile, decentralised basis. The product itself becomes the data and information carrier, communicating with the machines, recording its own history and status and steering its own path through the process chain. The individual machines and systems must be well coordinated in order for this to work. These demanding tasks also call for well-trained specialist staff at local level who know how and when to intervene in the production process.
Q: My understanding is the concept of “Industry 4.0” is mainly a European concept. We don’t hear too much about this in the USA. Is that correct?
Gaub: In the future, Industry 4.0 is certain to be a topic that engages more and more customers worldwide. We are already seeing huge interest among our customers in Asia and the United States (under the banner of the “Internet of Things” or the “Internet of Manufacturing”).
Q: What is coming next for the integration of information in manufacturing? Artificial intelligence? Sensors on the machine to measure sounds and temperatures, predicting problems?
Gaub: In an effort to minimise unproductive times, “condition monitoring” is set to become an increasingly important topic for many injection moulding companies and will gain further significance. The idea is that components should be replaced when actually necessary, rather than changing them after a predetermined time, as part of preventive maintenance, or only when they fail.
This requires sensors that will automatically record the actual condition and level of wear on individual components.
Another important topic for the future is the fast and reliable implementation of increasingly complex production cells. This can be achieved by simulating all steps in advance, for example. Modern interfaces will ensure that the injection moulding machine, robotic systems and peripherals recognise one another and exchange parameter settings when connected — a key step toward the self-configuration of complex systems.