Mark Lewis of Omega Foundry Machinery Ltd gives Foundry Trade Journal an insight into the impact the fourth industrial revolution will have for the cast metals industry.
The first thing to understand about Industry 4.0 is it is not one technology but a combination of modern technologies combined to create a ‘SMART factory’. The 4.0 stands for the fourth industrial revolution which at first sounds extreme but when you start to look at the possibilities it is easy to see how these technologies can become real game-changers.
Industry 4.0 is the brainchild of the German government, and the train of thought is to create smarter, more efficient manufacturing through the use of SMART factories in the not too distant future. This will be achieved by various technologies communicating in a way that allows autonomous running of the facility and processes.
The big question is how can we utilise these new technologies within the foundry industry and what are the benefits?
In our everyday lives we are becoming increasingly reliant on technology, with smarter cars keeping us safe through to smart phones keeping us connected. If you consider the things we take for granted in our daily lives like streaming music or films, saving documents to the cloud, or remotely connecting to the office, these are all using state-of-the-art technology with one important link - the Internet. The high speed internet of today is allowing a lot more data to be transferred remotely and giving us much more control over various aspects of our lives, and this is where industry will start to see massive leaps forward in the workplace.
Businesses are starting to utilise this connectivity in many ways, from automatic material ordering through to cloud-based software control. The premise behind Industry 4.0 is to take this one step further by connecting not just one machine but also the whole factory so it communicates as one entity.
To achieve this there is one more key element needed - the Industrial Internet of Things - and this boils down to creating smart devices/machines that communicate with each other and the outside world.
Let us take these technologies and look at how they can be utilised in a foundry. The example we shall consider is one using silica sand monitored by a smart system. When the sand drops below the re-order level the SMART factory automatically places an order on the sand supplier for the required quantity of sand. So far this is simple, but it is reactive not proactive. Taking it to the next level, if that same system was tied into the production control system within the foundry and used data from material consumptions it could predict the sand, chemical, and consumable requirements for the coming week or month and could therefore have orders placed with suppliers for when they are needed. Of course whilst all this is happening the relevant person within the organisation is kept informed via notifications and can easily see what is happening via any device with a web browser and internet connection from anywhere in the world.
This is a very simple example of what could easily be achieved and if the rest of the foundry was automated and connected we start to get an understanding of how far reaching Industry 4.0 can truly be.
We may be some years away from a truly automated foundry but the technology is already available to achieve a lot of the benefits we will see in the future.
As an example, machinery in a foundry can already be monitored remotely via cloud-based control systems giving complete access to the data on the machine and if needed remote control of certain elements is possible. Also using technologies like RFID (radio frequency identification) we are able to automate control of various machines. For example, on sand mixers it is possible to deliver the exact sand recipe and quantity along with fully automatic filling sequence - this level of control can reduce waste and improve overall casting quality. As this process is automated it becomes easier to record production information and material usage because it is automatically collated and stored.
Add the ability to then access this data remotely on a PC, table or phone from anywhere in the world and we can see the future foundry is not so far away.
BENEFITS AND FUTURE ADVANTAGES
With less time spent doing the mundane work and by removing the guesswork from the equation it is easy to see the efficiency gains that are possible. In Germany industry is talking about average productivity gains of 5-8 per cent with some sectors seeing up to 20 per cent and the potential of Industry 4.0 adding over $14 trillion to the global economy in the next 15 years.
Foundries of the future will need to be reactive to the changing market place and by investing in Industry 4.0 they will have a competitive edge. Those adopting the concept will be more efficient and improve productivity but at the same time will be able to be more reactive to customer needs because these systems will give huge flexibility allowing more affordable short production runs.
PITFALLS AND CYBERSECURITY
Obviously there are disadvantages to any system and Industry 4.0 doesn’t come without its issues. Firstly the systems are very dependent on connectivity and the Internet, if the factory were to lose its internet connection it would have no means of communicating with the outside world. Secondly, the risk of cybercrime and hacking become even more of a threat when the whole plant is connected to the Internet.
However, these issues are easily overcome with clear planning and preparation. The plant must be able to continue operating if connectively is lost and the systems also need to have robust security and protection. When undertaking the task of installing a SMART foundry it is important to understand all the limitations and minimise their impact.
Another point worth considering is the supply chain around the foundry - there is no point creating an automated process if the current supply chain is not on board or capable of working with Industry 4.0. There is nothing stopping foundries implementing Industry 4.0 in small sections of the business as this gives a clear and steady path to implementation, but again planning is the key element and choosing the correct partners to work with will be paramount.
It will be many years before SMART foundries become commonplace but that does not mean that it isn’t important to understand now what the benefits are and what can be done to prepare for the future. It is possible to retrofit SMART technology to old plant so we don’t have to wait for new factories and equipment to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things. As devices and equipment in our factories get smarter, we must also get smarter on how we use the connectivity made available to us.
The possibilities are endless and by simply integrating smarter open technologies now it will make foundries easier to upgrade in the future to the Industry 4.0 ethos.
The final goal is a foundry where customer orders are placed via a centralised control system and by using integrated MRP/ERP systems the foundry manages its supply chain and production needs automatically. Machines communicate with each other and the supply chain placing orders for raw materials and planning production needs to meet lead times. The equipment then works together in the most efficient manner to achieve the customer’s requirements.
This doesn’t mean the end of human involvement but it does necessitate a different skill set, so it is important to have a workforce able to understand and cope with this advance in technology.
As technology has changed our everyday lives away from work it is now time to see how it can improve our working environments too. We all need to get a better understanding of what can and can’t be done with Industry 4.0 so we can make the transition as smooth as possible.
Contact: Mark Lewis, Omega Foundry Machinery Ltd, Tel: +44 (0) 1733 232231, email: firstname.lastname@example.org web: www.ofml.net
This article is based on a paper given by Mark Lewis at the World Foundry Congress in Nagoya, Japan in May 2016.