Automation solutions used in conjunction with Industry 4.0 technologies provide a number of benefits for companies.
Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the way in which manufacturing is being performed as valuable information is being captured and providing insights on performance, quality, and necessary maintenance. It can be used to make human operators much more efficient, ensuring they are addressing pressing needs in a timely manner.
When integrated with automated solutions, the rewards can be even greater as it allows remote functionality to be incorporated into a system such that a qualified technician does not need to be on site for updates, maintenance, or repairs to take place. With that, costs can be minimized as travel is reduced, additional personnel don’t need to be hired, and training can be handled remotely.
To help explain the benefits of how Industry 4.0 is helping in today’s manufacturing environment is Brian Romano, director of technology development for The Arthur G. Russell Co. Inc. In the following Q&A, he tackles topics including the definition of Industry 4.0, how it addresses the labor shortage, and the value it offers through remote support.
Sean Fenske: Industry 4.0 has achieved buzzword status. As such, many are using it who may have different definitions for it. What is Industry 4.0 according to you and/or AGR?
Brian Romano: There are nine accepted pillars of Industry 4.0: Internet of Things (IIoT), system integration, big data analytics, augmented reality (AR), cloud computing, cybersecurity, modeling and simulation (digital twin), autonomous robotics, and 3D printing. Of these, AGR leverages all but autonomous robotics and 3D printing to augment the capabilities of our machine offering and the associated required support and monitoring. We use robotics within our assembly systems and 3D printing for prototyping, but neither is at the level that is considered for Industry 4.0 applications. We started to offer Industry 4.0-enabled machines and production lines that provided the production data and statistics along with some machine health variables. Instead, we found customers were not able to make full use of the extended features made available with the Industry 4.0 enablement. We took a step back and pivoted to leverage the Industry 4.0-enabled machines to help support and monitor our customer’s equipment.
Fenske: How are you leveraging Industry 4.0 to provide remote support?
Romano: As I mentioned previously, AGR has been able to leverage the technologies applied to our machines, in addition to key software and hardware accessories, to provide augmented reality remote support and AI-assisted monitoring of customer equipment through the monitoring of machine KPIV and machine health data.
Fenske: Are you able to use Industry 4.0 for servicing or for at least a portion of that?
Romano: Yes, seven of the nine pillars of Industry 4.0 (autonomous robotics, and 3D printing excluded) are essential elements needed to provide a complete remote support program. The artificial intelligence used is comprised of the IIoT sensor network, modeling and simulation, and big data analytics, all of which are leveraged for remote monitoring to check in on how the machine is performing and, as issues are experienced, a preventative maintenance trip can be built to respond to the issues discovered during the remote monitoring sessions.
Fenske: What about training? Are you able to fulfill training needs for clients through Industry 4.0?
Romano: There are two parts to this. The first is that we recommend specific vendor training such as Rockwell, Epson, and Cognex to our customers to acquire a base knowledge of the foundational equipment on our machines. Once that is accomplished, we then provide more machine-specific training that builds on the knowledge they have received from the vendors to show how they are used in the design and implementation of the machine, and how to troubleshoot, diagnose, and maintain the equipment. The second part leverages augmented reality glasses. By using AR glasses for remote support supplied to both our customers and our technicians, the expertise available from our engineering and in-house experts can be leveraged throughout the world. AR glasses allow the remote support engineer to see what the field person is seeing, allows them to open videos and manuals to show to the user, and draw on their projected image while talking them through the troubleshooting of the equipment.
Fenske: How are benefits like these impacting the challenges brought on from labor shortages?
Romano: Our program was born from the labor shortage and skills gap that our customers are experiencing. We found that customers asked us to be a larger part of the continued maintenance and sustaining of machines installed in their facilities. The remote monitoring and remote support allow AGR to apply the onsite expertise of our in-house engineers and technicians to our customers quickly and with no travel requirements, at least for the initial troubleshooting stages.
Fenske: Where is Industry 4.0 having an impact where clients (or even your own team) hadn’t anticipated? What have been the benefits here?
Romano: Internally, we have started to look at how Industry 4.0 implementation practices can be applied to our fabrication machines. Applying the experience gained from our customer installation, we hope to garner good information for production pitfalls and maintenance. From a program offering standpoint, having the ability to be in near-constant contact with our customers and their machinery yields a more profound and symbiotic relationship with our customers.
Fenske: Do you have any additional comments you’d like to share based on any of the topics we discussed or something you’d like to tell medical device manufacturers?
Romano: The one area that customers struggle with is the introduction of legacy equipment to an Industry 4.0 implementation. Whether it is due to the equipment not having a means of data gathering or concentration or if it is a validated machine or process where changes cannot easily be made, the obstacles to integration of this equipment can be difficult to overcome. There are methods that allow customers to integrate this equipment and allow it to be a part of the digitalization of the organization where the information from these legacy machines can provide valuable insight into the overall production information and operations.
Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief. Offering more than 20 years of experience in journalism focused on the medical device and healthcare technology sectors, Sean Fenske is an industry veteran within medtech publishing. He joined Rodman Media in November 2015 as editor-in-chief of Medical Product Outsourcing and Orthopedic Design & Technology brands. He’s authored articles and blogs on technology trends, new innovations, industry challenges, and future outlooks as related to the space. Fenske has hosted video news casts on emerging medtech and moderated webinar and online roundtable discussions. Mr. Fenske can be emailed at email@example.com.