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Innovative Thinking

Industry 4.0: Multiplying Possibilities and Reaping Rewards

4.0 (1)The possibilities of applying Industry 4.0 technologies to the industrial arena are virtually unlimited. Imagine a real-time connected supply chain; one where all the components, including the producer, supplier, transporter, manufacturer, distributor, and retailer “talk” to each other. Imagine if all vehicles, containers, and pallets were interconnected. Imagine if all production equipment was interconnected. Imagine if a factory’s repositories were connected to mobile and wearables.

These changes could allow companies to understand and adapt to the consumers’ needs. They could improve the inventory management and quality of products, self-adjust based on the materials and conditions of the factory floor, and even give the workers and personnel a clearer insight into the processes. 

The possibilities and benefits of Industry 4.0 implementations are endless. An organization can ramp up its operational efficiency, improve product quality, streamline inventory management, anticipate the time to market, and bring sustainability to the workplace all thanks to the technology coming out of Industry 4.0.  

The Industry 4.0 solution-set is under development, and it may be some time before it can be fully implemented. However, certain fields have already adapted quickly and shown great promise. These include predictive maintenance and energy management.

Predictive Maintenance

Sensors serve as the building block for the entire Industry 4.0 revolution. Strategic placement of sensors can determine the equipment’s strengths and weaknesses and give personnel a heads-up to prevent breakdowns and reduce maintenance costs.

Built-in sensors within devices connected to a central network can make the monitoring process simpler and easier to manage. Equipment can be managed remotely in real-time and can be combined to provide a cohesive image of the plant floor. When this combined data is processed based on analytical models, predictive maintenance is enabled. As a result, operators, maintenance crews, and IT teams can get recommendations, alerts, and alarms before a breakdown occurs. This brings down the operating costs as well as capital costs linked with facilitating proactive servicing and repairs, freeing up personnel’s schedule and boosting productivity.

One example of this is an elevator maintenance solution. Real-time data extracted from elevators located in multiple geographical locations can be extracted and sent to cloud-based servers. From there, they can be analyzed, and reports can be generated and displayed to technicians on web-based dashboards. In the event the elevator shows signs of failure, teams can be dispatched immediately for rectifying the issue. Such a solution can bring down the need for always-available personnel, improve resource planning and help build up a maintenance schedule based on data accumulated over-time.

Such solutions are especially needful for equipment manufacturers, who can change their business models to a service one. They can charge for extended support services on top of providing products. For the end-user, this would result in a lower cost offering due to reduced warranty costs. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win situation.

Energy Management

Energy costs are a constant headache for industries due to the instability in global fuel costs, stringent regulations, and increased demands. Managing energy consumption effectively can lead to greener operations that can result in lower energy costs and protection for equipment. The use of IoT and predictive analytics can help companies achieve their energy conservation goals and make consumption much more transparent.

Most manufacturing organizations use metering solutions to keep track of their electricity usage. These, however, don’t reveal how energy is distributed across buildings, processes, or equipment. Even if energy meters are installed in a bifurcated manner, this doesn’t always translate into greater savings since they function independently, and the information collected is never processed.

Energy monitoring systems that use smart energy meters can solve such problems. IoT comes into the picture once again. Energy meters transmit readings to a central system in real-time which is displayed in the form of graphs and charts. In addition, smart sensors installed on specific sensitive equipment also relay settings and vital parameters to the system. A link is developed between the energy meters and sensors, providing insight into the use of energy. Deviations in readings from a specific energy meter are used as a warning sign and are acted upon automatically through a change in the connected equipment’s settings.

In case of major faults such as transients or excessive reactive power demand, failure is prevented by activating relays, actuators, or magnetic contactors. An equipment’s VFDs, servo motors, or inductive motors’ behavior can also be monitored through its energy consumption to determine the effect it's having on the grid. For instance, Static VAR Compensators can be installed to deal with power factor issues to make sure neighboring equipment isn’t damaged by a demanding device.

The Future

In addition to energy management and predictive maintenance, other areas of interest are supply chain and inventory management. IoT can improve these through weight/height detection sensors that can enable condition-based automatic reordering depending on the stock quantities instead of estimates. In addition, remote monitoring of levels of toxins within the workplace can put the designated teams in motion in case the upper limit is breached, drastically improving workplace safety.

Industry 4.0 technologies can offer companies comprehensive clarity on their processes and provide them with instant control with crisp recommendations and automated actions. This can facilitate the uninterrupted flow of finished products and fewer defects. The granularity required depends on the specific application. A smartphone manufacturer would have an array of additional sensors installed in its plants compared to a shoe-making plant. Overkill should never be the objective; requirements should be clear, and the solution should fulfill the production milestones that would bring efficiency, sustainability, and safety to the company.

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