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Welcome to the fourth industrial revolution

31-08-2010
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Industry 4.0 is here. Australia’s future will belong to the networked factory. But what does that mean for the future? And what benefits will we see now?

Klaus Bauer, head of system development fundamental technology at German-based TRUMPF group, a world leader in sheet metal fabrication explains …

What does the term Industry 4.0 suggest to us, and what are companies hoping to achieve with it?

The term describes the intelligent interlinkage of all the production systems. Industry 4.0 — also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution — will have a similar impact on production as did the first three industrial revolutions — mechanisation, electrification, and computerisation. It is essentially a question of making production more efficient, cost-favourable and flexible, and in that way to retain profitability. The goal is to produce a one-off item as easily as one in a mass production run.

What does an individualised manufacturing process look like?

The manufacture of the item to be produced can be influenced at any point in time. The Internet also makes it possible for the ultimate customer to impose individual requirements almost in real time. The prerequisite here is that the production line be extremely flexible and that it can turn out a wide variety of products.

The machines are largely self-configuring while information is stored not only centrally, but also at the product being manufactured.

This could include data on the properties of the feedstock material, describing how it can be worked. In the case of a complex product, this might also include information about which machine has already worked the product and which processing steps are required before completion.

What changes will Industry 4.0 bring for people who work on the production floor?

The workers will be very consciously integrated into the process. We need people in manufacturing since machinery — neither now nor in the future — can offer a substitute for their intuition and intelligence. At the same time, we attach great importance not to having just experts in the plant. It is important to insulate the people on the line from the complexity of these new systems. That is a major challenge. As the systems in the background become ever more complex, then we have to improve the systems used for control and interaction. The human being is supposed to direct and organise, without having to master all the complexity involved.

How is TRUMPF involved in the research of Industry 4.0?

TRUMPF has, from the very beginning, been a member of the German Federal Government’s working circles on Industry 4.0 and, as well, is on the steering and executive committee for “Platform Industry 4.0”, organised by the VDMA, ZVEI and BITKOM. In this way, we can actively influence research work and the implementation of the results. In addition, we are a partner in the CyProS (cyberphysical production systems) project being conducted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Among the things worked out here are the reference architecture for intelligent networking. In our own products, too, we are showing even today the directions that future developments might take. Examples are iPad apps with which production can be monitored from a remote point.

What will Industry 4.0 look like in practice?

Industry 4.0 does not mean that we will be tearing down and rebuilding anew. Existing production systems will be upgraded a step at a time. The steps are more evolutionary in nature and only in retrospect will we see how many different things have changed.

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