Digitalization as the new critical success factor

Let’s set the record straight.

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By Arun Jain, Vice President--Siemens Industry, Inc., Motion Control BusinessSIEMENS LOGO
Bernd Heuchemer, Vice President of Marketing--Siemens
Alisa Coffey, MarCom Manager of Aerospace, Automotive and OEMs--Siemens Industry, Inc.

It seems every trade magazine nowadays has an article on Industry 4.0 or big data or the Internet of Things or the digital factory. These terms are being pitched around like a rugby ball and almost always with a decided lack of clear definitions.  

So, as the saying goes, let’s set the record straight.


After German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered a study about the manufacturing environment, the German Academy of Science & Engineering drafted the vision of Industrie 4.0. It was planned as a coordinated initiative between the IT world, universities and various manufacturing associations, designed to reshape industry. It would seek to combine the physical, virtual, IT and cyber systems, thereby creating a new working environment between worker and machine. The 4.0 part of the name, incidentally, derives from the fourth industrial revolution, the predecessors being the emergence of mechanization through steam/water power, the impact of electricity on mass production and the invention of the computer, which led to our modern concepts of IT and automation.  

Industry 4.0 (English spelling) has been adopted worldwide as a functional goal in industry, especially the manufacturing world. As a sidebar, we all know today’s market has been additionally impacted by the emergence of new materials and now 3D printing, but that’s another story. Industry 4.0 represents a highpoint of dynamic achievement, where every company, whether a large OEM, major tier supplier or smaller job shop, can implement and benefit from the technologies and communications platforms available today.  

Without question, Industry 4.0 is less a vision of the future and more a vibrant collaboration between IT, machine builders, industrial automation integrators and especially motion control suppliers, who function at the heart of the machines, simultaneously effecting motion, then gathering and transmitting the relevant data to the appropriate control link in the company’s infrastructure, all at speeds measured in nanoseconds.  

To work effectively, this concept requires a standardization of platforms in both communications and languages used.

Integration in practice

While the big data idea overwhelms most managers, technicians and operators alike, the key is the manipulation of that data in a hierarchy of need, to borrow a term from the psychology world. The mobile device, tablet, cell phone and now the HMI screen itself can all be useful tools in transmitting the most important data from the shop floor to the top floor, or just down the hall to the front office. We say that for a reason, as the small shop owner would be well advised to heed this trend and respond appropriately. That action might take the form of using an integrator to tie all the machine functions and outputs together for that day when his OEM or upper tier customer demands it. In many industrial sectors, that day has already arrived.

Also, the cybersecurity issue cannot be understated, as we will soon see a shift from the open to the closed cloud for data storage in a factory or shop network. The protection of your intellectual property remains paramount, on a global scale, today.  To overlook that reality is to compromise the stability and security of your company.  

“Remaining competitive” takes on many meanings, depending on your location in the world, but here are some thoughts on how manufacturers can do it better today. By the time you finish reading this column, another entrepreneur will have figured out a way to make it happen for his or her company.  

Time-to-market reduction is as critical today as ever. Shorter innovation cycles, the result of new product lifecycle management software and services available to companies both big and small, mean the savvy product companies can take their concept and make it fly in just a fraction of the time spent in the past—and by “past”, we mean compared to about ten years ago.  

With the recent, rapid expansion of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) capability, much more functionality can be built into a product today and this means the manufacturing community must be even more flexible and responsive, not merely reactive, than ever before.  

With the “big data” impact that has resulted from the above scenario, both machine and component manufacturers are challenged in many ways, not the least of which is the daunting task of deciphering the important or exceptional from the nominal. A quality ERP or MES system can tell you what you need to know, but the keys are the determining factors that make up the inputs to these systems and how their priorities are set.  

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