Industry 4.0 has evolved over the last decade from concept to reality. The combination of physical assets and technology, which has expanded to include robots and cobots, data analytics and artificial intelligence, continues to progress. Transforming operations toward the factory of the future requires an investment in time, resources and training.
Eaton’s Vehicle Group began embracing the Industry 4.0 digital transformation in 2018, with the deployment of pilot programs of technologies and solutions at select facilities around the world. We’ve since added operational and informational technology at all Vehicle Group facilities globally. This is enabling our team to make real-time decisions, work alongside collaborative robots, and leverage additive manufacturing to produce the tooling, quality and safety devices needed to run our operations. With this comprehensive foundation, we are improving operational performance in productivity, quality and speed to market.
Eaton also saw the benefits of Industry 4.0 as an integral part of our operations strategy when COVID-19 spread around the world in 2020. Eaton maintained operations during this unprecedented crisis because of the vital role we play in sustaining global infrastructure and ensuring critical power supply.
We leveraged advanced Industry 4.0 technologies such as Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 augmented reality goggles to continue operations by maintaining safe social distancing or working remotely, meet our customers’ deadlines and continue product development programs. This technology, which displays 3D images in physical space via remote connection, is used across all facilities to ensure work is performed safely and to promote continuity.
Augmented reality also assists with performing preventative maintenance activities, as well as supporting knowledge retention and training for our employees on topics such as safety and how to perform changeover procedures effectively. The technology has proven critical for many projects, including recent customer reviews and approvals. Employees have provided feedback that augmented reality is helping them execute their job in a more efficient and interactive way.
Our Industry 4.0 efforts are focused on several technologies: additive manufacturing; manufacturing integrated ecosystems; simulation; autonomous robots; and augmented reality.
We’re currently using Industry 4.0 technologies in various ways. One way is to optimize manufacturing flow and eliminate the need for forklifts and other human-operated transport machinery. Autonomous automated guided vehicles or autonomous mobile robots promote safe distancing and increase productivity by improving the flow of materials throughout a manufacturing facility and allowing our employees to focus on value added activities. In addition, cobots—robots intended to interact with humans in a shared space or to work safely in close proximity—are used to safely handle complex and repetitive tasks.
Digital simulation applications that define the best combination of resources, including manpower and materials, are used to design new manufacturing cells, redesign existing ones and even validate automation projects. 3D printing tools are used to improve safety, quality and efficiency.
The Vehicle Group’s Industry 4.0 initiatives are an integral part of Eaton’s digital transformation and will continue to bring value for our customers and company.
Throughout our Industry 4.0 journey it’s important to remember the pivotal role our people play working alongside machines to improve production processes. Continuing to effectively train employees on the technologies will drive additional benefits, and integration with our continuous improvement initiatives will drive sustainable changes to our manufacturing environment.