For years, manufacturers of all sizes and across every industrial segment have heard about Industry 4.0. The definition changes depending on the speaker or publication, but the essential idea remains the same. Now that manufacturing has become almost entirely digitized and interconnected as part of what we might call “Industry 3.0,” shops and their suppliers have begun to leverage digital data in new ways, from predictive maintenance powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to scalable solutions designed to power the next generation of data analysis.
While many people tend to describe Industry 4.0 as the future of manufacturing, in reality it has already arrived. OEMs like OMAX Corp. and other major manufacturers, for example, have integrated Industry 4.0 solutions into their own production operations. At many smaller shops, however, the technology remains just out of reach. For that reason, OEMs must look for ways to streamline it and make it easily accessible.
One of the primary issues preventing Industry 4.0 adoption is cost. Manufacturers may agree that these advanced technologies are worthwhile, but they may not see the cost as justifiable. This is particularly true for shops in which adopting the technology means investing in newer equipment. Also, shops need a team capable of integrating automation, software and digital solutions for Industry 4.0 with existing or new equipment.
At OMAX, we began this effort years ago with our control technology, choosing a PC-based platform that offers scalability and flexibility, particularly with software updates. This has helped customers integrate software like the OMAX IntelliVISOR System Monitoring Package.
While software packages can help integrate Industry 4.0, what to do with data remains an issue. Gathering data with MTConnect and other communications protocols is easier than ever—the trouble is making sense of that data. For example, OMAX, is exploring the use of predefined reports and queries that take massive amounts of data and distill it into an easy-to-use format. Also, regular software updates help customers take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and other Industry 4.0 approaches.
Of course, Industry 4.0 is more than software—it’s also new hardware, particularly automation and additive manufacturing. Some OEMs have created new additive equipment and robots, while integrating Industry 4.0 technology within existing machine platforms. Other OEMs, including OMAX, pursue technology that can easily integrate with new equipment.
Abrasive waterjets are an excellent example of this kind of integrative, complementary technology. Additive manufacturing (AM), for example, nearly always needs post-processing, and given the range of materials used in AM—everything from plastics to Inconel—the high material-processing flexibility that can be obtained with waterjets can be key. Because waterjets have long been used in R&D and rapid prototyping, waterjet users can more easily bring AM into their shops for applications such as fixturing and base plate production or heat-free trimming of AM products.
Industry 4.0 promises to make machines capable of learning. Machines will begin to offer fully predictive maintenance, alerting users before problems can even begin. For example, OMAX has begun to explore predictive tools to inform users when adjustments must be made to maintain tight part tolerances.
To get this technology into every shop, OEMs must prioritize ease of use and accessibility to ensure that all customers can realize the benefits of future manufacturing advances.