The factory of the future – it’s all about data

Big Brother began as a social experiment to observe human interaction, and factories around the world could come under the same scrutiny as a result of Industry 4.0. This time, however, it’s the robots that are under surveillance, learns Freddie Holmes

Industry 4.0 is often seen as a move to further integrate mechanical automation within factories. However, this transition is already well established, and one supplier believes the trend is instead shaped by the impact of Big Data.

Whilst the term Big Data may be somewhat vague, its appeal and relevance within manufacturing operations is clear. Modern automotive manufacturing takes place on a global stage, and the same vehicle platform can be produced at various locations. Parts are produced at high volume, high speed, and often via complex processes. Quality and efficiency is an absolute must, and delays must be avoided at all costs. Whilst data and software are already leveraged heavily to optimise these factors today, there remains a disconnect between the various elements of the production line that some believe must be addressed.

Gestamp, a leader in body-in-white, chassis and mechanisms, has been investigating how the trend can improve its manufacturing operations on a global scale. Pilot programmes are in their early stages, but the results have shown promise so far, and are set to roll out worldwide.

“Industry 4.0 is new to us, but we are well positioned,” remarked Francisco Riberas, the supplier’s Executive Chairman during a visit to its Abrera plant, which neighbours SEAT’s Martorell factory in Barcelona, Spain. Riberas was also keen to dilute some of the hysteria associated with Industry 4.0, noting that change may not be as radical as some marketing would suggest. “Digitalisation provides more tools and data to take current industries to the next level. However, I do not believe it is going to be a revolution,” he said. “There will not be a huge impact that will change the world; the idea is that there is a lot of data, and we now have the opportunity to connect all of our plants.”

“The fourth industrial revolution is about software and the Internet… Sometimes people confuse robotics and automation with data analytics” – René González, Gestamp

René González, Director of Advanced Manufacturing & Equipment Standardisation at Gestamp, explained that the goal is to create a “more durable system” and to use data analytics to optimise the line. He too argued that Industry 4.0 is often misunderstood. “The fourth industrial revolution is about software and the Internet… Sometimes people confuse robotics and automation with data analytics,” he mused.

‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’

Part of the idea is to gain a complete understanding of how a part is produced from start to finish, not only by adding sensors where necessary, but also by using data analysis to create smart algorithms. Parts should be produced with greater efficiency, with less waste, and at higher quality.

All parts will become traceable; if there is a defect on a line of connected machines performing the same operation, the machine at fault needs to be identified and fixed. Machine learning algorithms will improve operational efficiency, and can be implemented across entire production lines on a global scale. Data will be continually monitored by software, and human workers will have access to real-time reports on the production line. Surveillance of data will be carried out in tandem by humans and artificial intelligence (AI), the latter of which will be continuous and on a monumental scale.

“With Industry 4.0, it is like Big Brother,” remarked Bernhard Feyo, Industry 4.0 Project Manager at Gestamp. “There used to be a disconnect between the various elements of a production line – the phrase ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ was true for the way data is shared – but with Industry 4.0, we will know everything there is to know about a given process.”

Rather than being isolated from the outside world as the original television series did for its human participants, the ‘Big Brother’ effect of Industry 4.0 will entail the complete opposite; manufacturing is set to become transparent, with insights shared and expertise leveraged globally. “We always think locally with pilots, but in the long-term we plan on expanding this everywhere, so we need to prepare our systems and projects to cover all of Gestamp’s activities,” said González.

Applications in practice

Industry 4.0 is widely presented as a future trend, but for Gestamp, it is already a reality, and is being used to monitor a number of its hot stamping lines. Hot stamping is a highly complex thermal and mechanical process that requires huge manufacturing lines, which can be up to 15 metres tall (50 feet) and 65 metres long. Steel blanks are heated at temperatures of more than 900 degrees Celsius before immediately being pressed and cooled in a special die. The process needs to be performed quickly and efficiently to achieve maximum quality, and thousands of signals need to be controlled perfectly at the same time.

“Due to the complexity of this process, we decided to launch an Industry 4.0 pilot to increase the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of our hot stamping lines,” said Laura Viñolas, Industry 4.0 Technical Manager at Gestamp. “We measure the performance of the line – how fast things are produced – and the level of availability, which describes the machine’s run time versus stop time. Quality – the number of good parts versus bad parts – can also be measured, and Industry 4.0 can have a positive impact on all of these things.”

“With Industry 4.0, it is like Big Brother… We will know everything there is to know about a given process.” – Bernhard Feyo, Gestamp

In July 2018, six presses and various robots and tools will be connected as part of a pilot project at a Gestamp factory in Poland. Various elements will become sensorised, allowing insight into aspects such as raw material traceability, tooling temperature, the processing status of mechanical presses and quality control. As a result, the number of data signals generated by this line will grow from just 3, to 30,000. “We want to have access to all of the information that can influence the quality of a part,” explained González.

Gestamp’s various manufacturing processes are set to become ‘intelligent’ by using algorithms that can run through that data in real-time. This is a challenging task, even with software in the loop. “The hardest work in my opinion is handling the quantity of information you have in front of you,” explained González. “After gathering this data, you need to calculate and standardise this information.”

Other Industry 4.0 pilots are in place at factory lines in Abrera, Barcelona; Llanelli, Wales; and Dongguan, China to name a few. By the end of 2018, 48 lines are due to be connected.

Harnessing Big Data

Once a line is connected, the data it generates is stored, processed and analysed in order to recognise patterns and develop advanced analytics. It can then be used to detect and predict failures and deviations on a line, thus improving the quality and availability of finished parts. In effect, this means that in-line anti-error checks are carried out during the process itself, rather than simply checking finished products afterwards.

“Big Data is the basis of Industry 4.0, and is the secret to everything that goes on at our facilities” – René González, Gestamp

Any part that is produced will have its own traceability code and a unique digital quality certificate (DQC). If the part reaches the next operation having failed a single element of its DQC – which has not been revalidated by a human engineer – the part will be flagged and returned. In doing so, no vehicle manufacturer should receive a defective part. “Every significant detail of every process for each individual part is known and stored,” explained Gestamp’s Feyo. “Ultimately this means we will direct less investment into ensuring quality control, as that happens in real-time whilst the process is running.”

Jose Miguel Casa, Territory Manager, Spain & Portugal at OSIsoft, which is working with Gestamp to connect sensor-based data, systems and people, noted that “there will be massive amounts of data to collect, and massive amounts of data to analyse” as part of the transition toward Industry 4.0. “Data is the less sexy piece of the puzzle, but it enables this convergence,” he added. This underpins Gestamp’s view, and as González puts it: “Big Data is the basis of Industry 4.0, and is the secret to everything that goes on at our facilities.”

Machine automation may well increase across the industry, as many expect, during the shift to Industry 4.0. Many will also hope that it does not see the eviction of workers from the manufacturing line, but for Gestamp, the role of the human is expected to expand. Data scientists, for example, are being brought in to the factory for the first time, and it is evident that machine learning is of greater interest for the company moving forward.

This article appeared in the Q4 2018 issue of M:bility | Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue