Special Report: Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Salvagnini identified and repurposed technology from the telecommunications market to create and introduce the first fiber laser worldwide for metal cutting applications. Photo: Salvagnini America

A new frontier unfolds for manufacturers

October 2015 - Television shows like the original “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space” sparked my young imagination and captured the attention of fans across a broad demographic. The episodes featured futuristic technology that most of us thought we would never live to see.

Warp speed ahead to 2015: We have GPS to keep us from getting lost. Cell phones, tablets and smartwatches—not unlike Capt. Kirk’s communicator—connect us to people, the Internet and pretty much anything else for which there is an app. And cars are now beginning to talk with each other, broadcasting data such as vehicle location, speed and steering wheel placement to alert drivers to trouble before it happens. 

Whether we are ready, technology is sweeping over every aspect of our lives. For the metalworking industry, it is ushering in a new industrial revolution that experts call Industry 4.0, or Cyber-Physical Systems. Previous industrial revolutions—steam, electricity and the first programmable logic controller—transformed both labor and equipment around the world. Cyber-Physical Systems heralds the integration of smart, connected machines and people. Employing data and powerful analytics in real time will evolve and optimize supply chains and production lines to a new level of automation and digitization.

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“It will be the leading topic for the next 20 years,” claims Tobias Reuther, manager of the automation group for Trumpf Inc. “Industry 4.0 is being driven by an increase in individualized customer requirements, for instance, fabrication of smaller batch sizes and single piece flow that is becoming more diverse along with shorter reaction times.”

Fabricators and equipment manufacturers alike must adopt or be left behind. Yet efforts to move forward are hindered by challenges like the growing skills gap, an ongoing topic of conversation in the industry.

Map coordinates

A 2015 Skills Gap Study conducted by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. estimates the next decade will see the creation of 3.5 million manufacturing jobs. Yet, 2 million of those positions could go unfilled because of the lack of skilled machine operators, technicians and the like. 

Surveyed executives cited those failings they believe to be the most serious: Technology and computer skills topped the list with a deficiency rating of 70 percent followed by a 69 percent deficiency in problem-solving skills, a 67 percent deficiency in basic technical training and a 60 percent deficiency in math. Participants also noted the need for soft skills like reliable attendance, timeliness and the ability to work well in a team environment.

To bridge the gap, manufacturers turn to automation. Innovations like 3-D printing, machine vision, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Services and the introduction of social robots—underpinnings of Industry 4.0—are driving the mechanization of processes. 

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These challenges raise questions such as ‘What will the job shop of the future look like?’ ‘What will the workforce of the future look like?’ And ‘How will people and robots coexist?’

There are no easy answers, yet some forward thinking manufacturers, educators and professional associations are providing pieces of the puzzle on how to fill the job pipeline with a uniquely skilled workforce. Equipment suppliers seek the further development of software and smart, automated equipment these future workers may well have a hand in designing, programming or servicing.

“Growing a talented workforce helps ensure manufacturing will continue to be the bedrock of our economy and competitiveness,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO for the National Association of Manufacturers.

Longitude and latitude

Bill Rayl agrees. The executive director for the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association (JAMA), Jackson, Michigan, is part of a joint effort to teach progressive protégées starting with kindergarteners. Rayl was approached in 2003 by local companies grappling with the lack of available skills training. “The real question was ‘How do we get new blood in the door?’” he explains. Partnering with 70 area manufacturers, the local workforce investment group and public school grades K–12, the association created the Academy for Manufacturing Careers and launched its first summer camp in 2005, called “I Can Make It,” for fourth- through sixth-graders. 

“We started there because education statistics indicate that fourth grade is when kids begin to link math and science from a theory perspective to one of application,” says Rayl. The program has since multiplied to 13 summer programs geared to grades K–12. Growth prompted the addition of the Jackson Area College and Career Connection, or JAC³. “The idea to create an early middle college emerged from talks about how to train more people,” Rayl says. “We had the program up and running by August 2014. We enrolled 17 students and had 12 company sponsors that first semester.”

Dan Draper, assistant principal for the Jackson Area Career Center, oversees JAC³. The program allows Jackson County students to simultaneously earn both a high school diploma and college credits for an associate’s degree in applied science while getting hands-on experience in a sponsor company’s workplace with the opportunity for full-time employment following high school graduation.

“There’s been a wall between industry and education and we have to pull that wall down,” says Draper. “A lot of talent is going to college for a career they don’t even know if they will have. We’re giving kids jobs before they earn degrees instead of giving them a degree and then hoping they will find a job. This generation, more than any other, is adaptable to technology. They have grown up with cell phones, tablets and laptops.” 

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For James Curtis, who entered JAC³ as a senior and started college in January 2015, his matchup with Technique Inc., a prototype manufacturer, has taught him more than hard skills like welding, tool and die and press forming. 

The 18-year-old trainee is working toward a machining certification and journeyman’s card in tool and die manufacturing. “I’ve observed that people tend to rely on technology to do things it can’t always do,” he says. “You always have to have someone that knows the mechanics of how technology works along with the basics—that’s the foundation upon which people will coexist with automation.” 

The drive to be creative and curious along with the ability to problem solve are equally important, he says. “It’s about being able to connect dots that aren’t connected for you.”

Seventeen-year-old Zack Lobbestael entered JAMA as a fifth grader and, during eighth grade, he toured the career center and committed to the program for the long haul. His job with a local manufacturer has exposed him to a “good bit of problem solving.” 

“An automotive manufacturer wanted us to modify a cutter with carbide inserts originally designed for edge cutting. They asked us to rework the tool to make both edge and center cuts without changing its design,” he explains. “The engineers and cell leaders engage me in these kinds of projects to help show me the bigger picture of what happens beyond our walls. I realize that I have the tools to explore outside the lines and do things that would not have been possible otherwise.”

In addition to the mental training, “I know if I don’t have the answers, I have the skills and curiosity to figure it out. Because of this educational pipeline, I’m getting a head start in the world,” Lobbestael says.

In upstate New York, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Manufacturing Innovation Learning Laboratory (MILL) is also educating the next generation of industrial innovators but unlike JAMA and JAC³, their students are already engineers.

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“We use hands-on programs in the [lab], such as the Manufacturing Processes and Systems (MPS) class, to help our students bridge the gap between theory and application,” says Sam Chiappone, manager of fabrication and prototyping for the Rensselaer School of Engineering. Mechanical and industrial engineers form teams that design, process engineer, rapid prototype and provide technical documentation for a product they then produce in a short run quantity of 400 units. Product ideas come from high school STEM students. 

“MILL and MPS help our students understand how engineering can be used to problem solve,” Chiappone says. In addition to MPS, the lab created an Advanced Manufacturing Processes and Systems class in 2013 to expose graduate students to emerging technologies like micro and nanoscale fabrication, digital manufacturing and additive processes.

“Machines will become smarter but need to cater to the way people use technology,” Chiappone notes. “The future leaders of manufacturing are teenagers. They will want something that looks like a cell phone or tablet. Controls will become more powerful yet the interface will evolve into a program or device that is simple yet intuitive. In addition to systems interfaces, 3-D is another technology to watch. It will continue to challenge people to rethink how they design, manufacture and service their products.”

Rennsselaer Systems Engineer Larry Ruff says MILL prepares students for standard technologies too, but agrees that the ability to interface with advanced computer-controlled equipment is critical to attracting young people to manufacturing careers. 

“By learning how to manufacture something, our engineers become better designers,” Ruff says. “We expose them to what’s currently happening in industry such as micro manufacturing and electro spinning, two techniques being used for both composites and micro-mechanical devices. When they take jobs in the real world and tackle new device designs, our goal is that they have enough background to say, ‘Hey, maybe I can take this technology and further develop it to design something that hasn’t been manufactured before.’”

Technology transfer

Salvagnini America Inc. took a similar step when it borrowed KERS [kinetic energy recovery system] from Formula One Racing and modified it for use in a new press brake design. The early adopter also borrowed from telecommunications to create a new category of machines and introduce the first fiber laser worldwide for metal cutting applications. 

Tools like technology transfer are especially important in a fluid business climate. But the nimble-footed machine tool builder envisions manufacturing models for both OEMs and fabricators changing in the days ahead.

“Historically OEMs have run large jobs amortizing setup time by increasing batch quantities,” says Bill Bossard, president of Salvagnini America. “Metalformers are tasked with figuring out how to run ‘make-to-order’ jobs efficiently. Everyone is chasing manufacturing efficiency. Universally, customers want to lower costs and improve profit margins.” 

Automation and connectivity offer ways to do that. For example, Salvagnini machines can be networked with one another and monitored remotely with a new app called SAM that allows personnel to access statistics on a given machine in real time on a cell phone, tablet or PC. 

“When we ask people what their biggest bottleneck or problem is, more often than not it’s something that can’t be corrected with current technology,” he continues. “For us that raises the question of, ‘Is this a common problem?’ If we can solve the problem then we have a manufacturing solution that could fit a global market space.”

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The business model for equipment suppliers may also change. “The more we talk with customers and the people designing tooling and machines the better,” Bossard says. “The future of machine builders could be to form consortiums in complementary fields and leverage the strength of all these disciplines to create solutions.”

LVD Group is leveraging its own strengths to foster collaboration among machines and software on the job shop floor. It believes these steps will provide the infrastructure for a truly smart factory. “When it comes to production, the most important thing fabricators need is quick response manufacturing in combination with a variable time buffer,” says Kurt Debbaut, software product manager for LVD. “To achieve that a manager must be able to see in real time his entire production chain from bottom to top—from conceptualized part drawing to shipping.”

“Industry 4.0 is not a solution to this problem,” he adds. “It’s a tool we’re delivering to customers in the form of machines and software that can not only communicate with each other but also talk to other machines as well as data collection programs like CRM and ERP.” Integrated sheet metalworking products, including laser, punch, press and press brake, form LVD’s core business. New products like ToolCell, an automatic tool-changing press brake and the company’s advanced open architecture CADMAN software are giving customers the control they need to manage and prioritize process flow. ToolCell increases bending throughput by automatically changing tools while the operator prepares the next parts for bending, thus reducing the setting-to-bending ratio. With 60-plus years of experience, the company has seen the influence of software on machines grow exponentially. Part nesting is one example, an area that also has the potential to be a bottleneck in real-time processing. 

“A programmer can now generate a nesting program at the last minute based on material, sheet dimension and part types for greater efficiency,” says Debbaut. “But once the laser completes a nested sheet, the operator is faced with the challenge of verifying part quality and then matching individual parts to multiple purchase orders.” Touch-i4, LVD’s latest real-time smart technology, allows an operator to see the entire nested sheet on his tablet. Components are color-coded to allow for quick sorting of parts into several different purchase orders, a capability unique to LVD.

While Debbaut admits that there is “still a long way to go to reach a work environment where different suppliers’ machines can talk to each other and share data through various software conduits,” it’s a vision that ultimately supports true optimization of processes and the development of new applications.

New applications will support a metalworking market that Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, believes will get stronger as robot capabilities increase and costs decline.

“For many years people thought offshoring to lower costs was the way to compete,” he says. “But it means you are constantly chasing low-cost labor and that is not a good business strategy. It’s time to bring products back to the U.S. Automation can offer improved quality, reduce transportation costs and time to market and you don’t have to worry about potential threats to your IP [intellectual property].”

Burnstein sees greater collaboration between robots and people. Workers will need to have both soft skills and technical prowess. Power and automation technology company ABB introduced YuMi, the world’s first truly collaborative dual-arm industrial robot this past April. 

When asked if robots have the potential to replace people, Burnstein replies, “I like to talk about the real risk. If you work for a company that can no longer compete, your job is at risk. If your company goes out of business, you have lost your job. Automation can help a company compete and grow its business, giving its employees job security. Automation can also open doors to new business opportunities which, in turn, can grow a company and add more jobs.”

With that in mind several major equipment suppliers, along with Salvagnini and LVD, are leading the charge in technology development.

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I robot

OTC Daihen regularly releases innovations for the arc welding robot market in North America. A new 7-axis arc welding robot series, a wireless teach pendant for robots and creation of nanotechnology-driven arc welding power sources are just a few of the breakthroughs OTC has unveiled recently.

“At the moment we’re the only company to offer a 7-axis arc welding robot,” says Bill Guest, OTC’s vice president of sales and marketing. The seventh axis allows the robot to access tighter spaces than a standard robot can but stay clear of tooling and obstructions. In some cases, the 7-axis design can eliminate the need for additional positioning devices. But OTC’s magic bullet, as Guest calls it, is the computer chip the company developed using nanotechnology. OTC’s Welbee chip is the core of its new arc welding power source technology. 

“Our microprocessors function at a speed of 20 nanoseconds. If we compare this to our first-generation inverter welding power sources, we now have a processing speed 5,000 times faster,” he says. “This allows virtually infinite control of welding characteristics for drastic improvements in weld quality, spatter control and welding speed.” 

OTC invested over $10 million and six years of research to develop the Welbee chip.

Holistic approach

Amada North America Inc. also has heavily invested in what it calls its continuous cycle of innovation, an ideology that includes core machine, tooling, automation and software. Amada is one of the few companies in recent years to build a new manufacturing facility in California. The factory is located just 10 minutes from Amada’s Los Angeles Technical Center that was recently renovated. Factory and renovation costs totaled $70 million. 

“We intentionally positioned our manufacturing facility near our technical center to support our cycle of innovation,” says Nick Ostrowski, general manager-media/communications for the sheet metal machine manufacturer. Proximity makes it easy for customers to visit both facilities in the same trip, see the latest equipment advances and talk one-on-one with Amada staff members—from design engineer to plant manager—about their production problems.

“Amada’s approach to technology development is holistic,” says Ostrowski. “We are always looking at emerging technology trends and how we can develop new manufacturing methods. The technical center and factory provide a feedback loop that allows us to find out what challenges customers are facing and in some cases offer real-time answers from input gathered on the spot.”

He adds that the majority of machines today are sold with some element of automation. “Because we manufacture automation here in the U.S. we’re able to offer immediate solutions.” 

Amada’s $55 million Solution Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, caters to large groups but is set up to attend to the needs of individual customers. 

With smarter machines, Ostrowski also sees the profile of the future worker changing. “I think those considering work in a job shop or larger manufacturer will need to have some type of tertiary education which can include vocational training up to undergraduate and postgraduate work depending on job choice. Postsecondary education is required to understand much of the technology currently being used. Work environments are becoming more automated every day and are already PC and software driven.”

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Brain power

To address the specific challenges Industry 4.0 will create for metalworkers, Trumpf has invested substantial resources in R&D and formed a flexible sheet metal manufacturing group to investigate the entire order fulfillment process so it can develop solutions that will help manufacturers become more competitive.

“In the past if you wanted to optimize production you analyzed data captured from previous weeks to forecast adjustments to your manufacturing processes for the future,” says Reuther. “If data is provided in real time, the time you lost gathering and analyzing data is eliminated and adjustments can be made on the fly. 

“Industry 4.0 is all about data, networks and learning to use it to optimize the processes around the machine as well as the entire order fulfillment process,” he says. 

Last year Trumpf gave its customers access to the mobile world around their machines with Visual Online Support (VOS). The app allows a line operator immediate access to technical service and the ability to exchange images, audio and video files. Images can be processed live and enhanced with additional information.

Using “disruptive” digital technologies, job shops’ operational effectiveness will increase as fabricators “eliminate inefficiencies along the order and process chains,” Reuther predicts. “Job profiles will also change—as they did in the past three industrial revolutions—as employees adapt to working with real-time information, new tools and self-organizing manufacturing processes. The exchange of data between machines and people will reduce setup time, work in process and affect physical material flow in a shop. Employees will be able to interact live with their company’s production plan at any time. Making this information usable for job shop improvement will become a new field of expertise,” he adds.

For the Starship Enterprise, space was the final frontier. Its mission was to explore strange new worlds. While it may not be the year 2265, technology is handing manufacturers and educators a similar prime directive

Says Rensselaer’s Chiappone, “I can’t wait to see where it is all going.” FFJ


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