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No longer simply a concept, it is very much of the ‘here and now’, and the opportunities for growth and the productivity it affords to manufacturing enterprises of all shapes and sizes are ripe for the taking.
Industry 4.0, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), big data, the cloud – these are terms that would have appeared alien to industrial automation specialists a decade or so ago. But the digital transformation of the manufacturing industry is now in full swing, and the innovations that these terms represent are already bringing rewards for those forward-thinking enterprises that have embraced them.
The manufacturing industry faces some fundamental changes in the way it produces goods, how it engages with its supply chains and how it serves its customer bases. And while Industry 4.0 may be at the heart of this transformation, questions about how it may be implemented, who best to consult on implementation, what the costs are in terms of investment and cultural change must be addressed at some stage.
For the purposes of this article, let’s consider those first two questions regarding implementation: the ‘how’ and ‘who’. Who best to approach for guidance on how to implement the Industry 4.0 paradigm throughout an enterprise? The more obvious choices are those suppliers of basic and advanced production hardware and their associated systems engineering that manufacturers rely upon so heavily – the machine builders and system integrators.
Automation and networking have been fundamental aspects of manufacturing for many decades, and it is the machine builders and system integrators that have pushed the technologies forward and who are now fully embracing the concept of Industry 4.0 and all its attendant technologies. Modern production machinery must offer a high degree of compatibility with other elements of the production system if it is to serve the purposes of Industry 4.0; it must also be scalable and modular in its configuration in order to adapt rapidly to changing production needs – and these changes may be very rapid indeed in a fully digitised manufacturing environment.
Those companies supplying the machine building industry must have a product portfolio that is uniformly compatible and scalable, ensuring the greatest possible flexibility in the implementation of modular machine concepts and facilitating automation solutions that are tailored to meet the requirements of the task in hand. A good example of this is Lenze's new i950 servo inverter, which allows the machine manufacturer to use the standardised technology modules in the company's FAST Application Software Toolbox and adapt these modules individually for specific customers.
This approach allows machine modules to be developed in a standardised way and, with very little outlay, gives the machine builder a comprehensive library of reusable software – whether for modules with a decentralised intelligence in each axis or for modules with a powerful central control for complex multi-axis movements. From the software-engineering point of view, it will be irrelevant whether a servo inverter is integrated into the machine topology as a simple activating drive, as a parameterisable axis, or as a freely programmable axis.
But modern Industry 4.0 automation solutions are not merely restricted to the networking of modular machines on the shop floor. Digital transformation of the enterprise is inextricably linked to the interconnectivity and interoperability of IIoT enabled devices and the almost infinite capabilities of cloud computing whereby data from machines and production systems are collected in the cloud, analysed there, and then linked to other enterprise information systems on demand. The huge amount of manufacturing pertinent data and computing power available to production machinery from the cloud will ultimately transform machines from standard controlled entities to intelligent, independent systems, capable of making decisions and acting upon them without human intervention.
Connectivity to the cloud via the IIoT will become a standard feature of field level devices over the coming years, rather like the proliferation of fieldbus communication between devices on the shop floor developed in decades past. Standardised protocols such as the data-intensive, platform independent OPC UA or lighter MQTT messaging protocol will thus become important additions to any automation portfolio, guaranteeing a certain level of future-proofing, even in the age of cloud computing.
Of critical importance to all this, of course, is security. The interconnectivity and integrated processes that define Industry 4.0 are worlds away from the isolated control systems of the past. When control systems are directly connected to the business IT environment, with free flow of data via the cloud throughout the enterprise and beyond into the outside world, there is the potential for every point on those networks to be vulnerable to cyber-attack. A determined cyber-attack could see the theft of intellectual property, data corruption, production losses, damage to capital equipment, reputation impact, injury to shop floor personnel or even loss of life.
In terms of protection, a security policy should adopt a combination of technologies and approaches which might include strategies for isolating very sensitive areas from the network altogether; making use of industry standard encryption technologies; making multiple firewall implementations, using artificial intelligence based systems that continuously monitor network traffic to look for suspicious activity, and frequent testing of attack scenarios to help train and bolster awareness among staff.
Security is a complex and continually changing challenge, but by adopting modern devices, platforms and tools, and by taking a systematic approach, machine builders and equipment owners can balance the costs and risks and, by doing so, help promote the true benefits of enterprise digitalisation and the brave new world of Industry 4.0.
About the author:
Neil Beaumont is Marketing Communications Manager at Lenze UK. He has been with Lenze since 1996, where he started his career as an Internal Sales Engineer. Neil moved into marketing in 2017 and is responsible for branding, PR and communications and delivering the full marketing strategy for Lenze UK.
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