Industry 4.0 Smartens Up at Hannover Fair Preview

So far, there's lots of talk about Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing and the Internet of Things, but precious few examples about how to actually do it. Oh sure, many end users, system integrators and suppliers are using bits and pieces of IoT, cloud-based computing and other Internet protocol (IP)-based tools to move performance and production data up to their enterprises, but almost none have thoroughly integrated them to gain the operational advantages that smart manufacturing promises. 

SIblog Johann Hofmann headshot

One of the few pioneers in this field is Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen GmbH (MR, www.reinhausen.com) in Regensburg, Germany, which bills itself as the "power behind power," and mostly manufactures tap changers and other devices for regulating power transformers. Tap changers adapt the transmission ratio of the primary to secondary winding to changing load ratios, and together with added products and services ensure interruption-free power supplies. MR has 26 subsidiaries and affiliated companies worldwide, and is part of the Reinhausen Group, which also builds high-voltage test and diagnostic equipment as well as surface modification components using plasma technologies. 

"The history of MR as a high-performance manufacturer has given us decades to develop the strategies for accomplishing Industry 4.0 now," says Dipl.-Ing Johann Hofmann, consultant and senior vice president of ValueFacturing at MR, who anchored the keynote presentations at the Hannover Fair preview event on Feb. 3 in Berlin. "To support power generators, maximum-voltage grids and medium-voltage networks, MR builds the biggest transformer step switches, which contain numerous mechanical components. As a result, MR and its subsidiaries typically have to retool manufacturing operations two or three times per shift, and so in recent years they began investigating how Industry 4.0 methods might help, even though the idea made us dizzy when we first heard about it."

Over time, Hofmann reports that he and MR eventually boiled their understanding of Industry 4.0 down to 12 primary terms or concepts. These include:

  • Smart factory is a new idea for using the Internet for manufacturing production. It employs more resilient communications between machines, production lines, operators and support capabilities, which are all linked by IP-based communications and supposed by assistance systems. This results in better energy and resources efficiency and improved productivity.
  • Interdisciplinary and integrated manufacturing, which connect and combining formerly independent disciplines and methods for the best possible outcomes. 
  • Social media tools, such as Facebook, Xing and WhatsApp, for easily exchanging knowledge between users. 
  • Mobile computing on laptops, tablet PCs, smart phones and other devices.
  • Virtualization, including running and managing multiple computers, machines or other devices on fewer, unified operating systems or servers. This terms can also apply real-time modeling of manufacturing processes in virtual spaces.
  • Smart objects typically include barcodes, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and other components with digital data storage and memory, which are placed in materials, products or packaging, and detected by scanners and computers. These objects link the digital and physical world to help individualize and aid production. 
  • Big data refers to the huge data volumes coming with increasing speed from both analog and digital sources, which can be used to aid production via improved visualization, analysis and decision-making.
  • Analysis, optimization and forecasting consist of using heuristics, pattern recognition and other methods to filter out certain information, and gain useful intelligence from unstructured big data sources.
  • Internet of things is generally defined as combining Internet-enabled devices and products into universal, digital, communication networks.
  • Internet of services consists of providers offering functions and capabilities via the Internet typically in on-demand and subscription formats.
  • Assistance systems use lean manufacturing principles and manufacturing executions systems (MESs) between plant-floor and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. They address complicated problems that are predictable, manageable and can be automated with enough knowledge, and complex problems that can't be predicted, but can only be observed and influenced to some extent without foreseen consequences.
  • Cyber-physical systems use computers or portions of them to communicate via the Internet with existing physical devices and control them. Often referred to as embedded systems, they're are based on intelligent, industrial, assistance systems with direct access via data hubs to all facilities. This allows entirely new production system designs, such as intelligent work-pieces navigating autonomously through the production line producing them.

"We've found that lean methods are the best initial approach to Industry 4.0 because most manufacturing systems are generally higher performing but less robust," explains Hofmann. "However, even though lean principles will reach their physical limits, users need to go through them to get to the next steps on the road to Industry 4.0., which progresses from easy to difficult to complicated to complex tasks before progressing onward to predictive and assisted systems. This is similar to a driver, who knows what to do, but can be greatly helped by anti-lock brakes and intelligent navigation systems. 

"In Germany, we've had a zoo of mixed production assist systems for machine tools, controls, ERP and other functions, and they've worked well as standalones for many years. Now, we've been working on connecting, integrating and simplifying them for even more productivity. However, when we first tried to connect them about six years ago, we ended up with spaghetti networks, and shop-floor databases that required daily data entries and preprogramming to avoid multiple versions of the truth." 

Eventually, MR developed its Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen—Computer-Aided Manufacturing (MR-CM) data manager, which is web-based, paperless MES software that accompanies MR's production processes through all workstations, and ensures continuous information flows. This proprietary MES reportedly avoids the traditional interruptions that occur when data is passed between workstations, which cuts production cycle times and retooling, reduces required tool inventories, and makes MR's production processes more stable, reliable and efficient. Basically, MR-CM uses a common, open, XML-based data format for all of MR's production and enterprises systems, and makes them available to all users via joint, web-based server. For example, MR-CM makes it much easier to transfer production orders from MR's clients; helps programmers create numerical control (NC) datasets; assigns projects to plant-floor managers and machines; and shorten setup times and improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).  

"We harmonized all of MR's designs, systems and people and their information around one data traffic signal and one data policing function, so they wouldn't have to blame each other anymore," adds Hofmann. "We named this process ValueFacturing because it extends horizontally across the different plant floors and other location, and extends vertically through the production chain.

"Industry 4.0 is helping MR achieve competitive manufacturing, which is especially important in high-wage markets like Germany. It also enables MR to more easily produce products in all kinds of smaller batch sizes. Industry 4.0 is a bet on the future, but we can't succeed in that future if we don't go for it."


Jim Montague is a contributing editor for Smart Industry and the executive editor for our sister publications ControlControl Design and Industrial Networking.