Industry 4.0, the so-called fourth industrial revolution, encompasses a vast array of cutting edge technologies and new methodologies, which when implemented correctly have the potential to dramatically alter the manufacturing landscape as we know it.
Eaton’s Vehicle Group began developing its Industry 4.0 strategy at its Kings Mountain, N.C., facility. The first technology utilized was polymer additive manufacturing, which was used to produce fixture, quality and safety devices.
Long term, Eaton’s Vehicle Group envisions Industry 4.0 as operational and information technology enabling autonomous production systems made of advanced robots, additive manufacturing, digital simulation, and rapid application development. This occurs through data collection and analysis (big data) leveraging cloud computing, and encompasses the entire value chain, including suppliers, factories and customers in a fully integrated relationship.
Eaton’s Vehicle Group’s Industry 4.0 plan
Our plan focuses on five operational technologies—additive manufacturing, system integration, simulation, autonomous robots and augmented reality. With additive manufacturing, Eaton’s Vehicle Group aims to improve safety, quality and efficiency by designing and producing tools, poke-yokes and gages internally, which offers faster lead times, reduced purchase costs and highly customized solutions. Lead times can be reduced from weeks to days, while costs can be slashed from thousands to hundreds.
In an effort to reduce maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO), inventory and labor costs, while increasing performance, reducing lead time and improving quality, Vehicle Group has implemented a manufacturing execution system (MES). This interconnects plant systems and machines to collect, analyze and report real-time information, optimizing plant floor management. The MES centers on computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) software used in real time documenting, controlling, and management of an entire manufacturing process that includes machines, personnel, and support services. MES applications track activities and resources, link administration to the shop-floor activities, and are often integrated with other applications, such as enterprise resource planning, that are used in purchasing, shipping-receiving, inventory control, and maintenance and scheduling.
Simulation and Automation
To increase productivity, Eaton is using digital simulation applications to define which solution and/or combination of factors will lead to the highest output. These applications allow it to run several scenarios by changing parameters such as the number of operators, work in process material, cycle times, or operator standardized work. The applications are being used to define new manufacturing cells and assembly lines or to redesign existing ones. In the majority of cases the Vehicle Group is seeing productivity increases from 10 to 30 percent via higher employee output.
Eaton’s robotics strategy includes three elements: cobots (collaborative robots), autonomous automated guided vehicles and automated integrated forging cells.
The cobots are robots intended to interact with humans in a shared space or to work safely in close proximity. They can safely handle complex and dangerous tasks, and improve consistency and accuracy during the manufacturing process.
To improve consistency of manufacturing flow and eliminate the need for forklifts and other human-operated transport machinery, Eaton is using autonomous automated guided vehicles (AAGVs). In addition to improving the flow of materials throughout a manufacturing facility, AAGVs eliminate damage to structures and product, and increase safety and lower costs.
To increase the number of forging operations that can be performed per day and reduce headcount in an area where experienced forging professionals are in short supply, Eaton has turned to automated integrated forging cells currently. The cells also increase safety and accuracy.