Connecting machines, IoT and the Cloud

ICT is increasingly transforming manufacturing into highly-automated and IT-driven processes

By Peter Feuilherade

Manufacturing accounts for around one-sixth of gross world product, which represents a significant contribution to the global economy. Now it is entering a new era in which formerly separate manufacturing processes combine to produce intelligent data. Information and communications technology (ICT) is increasingly transforming manufacturing into highly automated and IT-driven processes, in a concept of change generally referred to as smart manufacturing. In Germany it is known as Industrie 4.0

Baumer Hyg Washdown sensor
All kinds of sensors play a central role in smart manufacturing

Merger of many assorted elements

Smart manufacturing involves the union of conventional automation with cyber physical systems combining communications, ICT, data and physical elements, and the ability to connect devices to one another.

The ICT element includes hardware and software, communication protocols, networks and interfaces, while automation comprises devices, sensors, systems, processes and control. Cyber physical systems use low cost sensors to monitor and collect data from manufacturing processes.

Smart sensors with interfacing circuits are capable of decision making, logic function and two way communication. The major benefits of smart sensors are high reliability, minimal cost, high performance and scalability.

In the words of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), a non profit US organization for sharing manufacturing intelligence, "in smart manufacturing, everything is connected with the aid of sensors and RFID (radio frequency identification) chips. For example, products, transport options and tools will communicate with each other and will be organized with the goal of improving the overall production…"

The ultimate goal of smart manufacturing is to interconnect every step of the manufacturing process. As Mark Watson, senior technology analyst at the global information company IHS, explains, "standalone plants can also communicate with other factory sites, merging vast industrial infrastructures already in place with cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). The end result is a complex, but vibrant, ecosystem of self-regulating machines and sites, able to customize output, allocate resources optimally and offer a seamless interface between the physical and virtual worlds of construction, assembly and production."

Smart manufacturing is a major driver of growth in the industrial automation market, which was worth an estimated USD 170 billion in 2013.

Automotive, electrical and electronics manufacturers, as well as the food, beverages and pharmaceutical industries, are among the sectors adopting smart manufacturing technologies in production processes.

Smart manufacturing in action

Smart manufacturing processes include sensors and devices with embedded software that can communicate with one another and with other systems in a given network; automated controls; improving productivity through shared information and improved decision making tools; and capturing and utilizing 'big data' to analyse, improve and troubleshoot operations.

For example, the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence operates a pilot smart factory in Kaiserslautern, Rhineland-Palatinate, where a large chemicals manufacturer has successfully tested producing customized shampoos and liquid soaps. In response to a test order placed online, RFID tags attached to empty soap bottles on an assembly line communicated to production machines what kind of soap, fragrance, bottle cap colour and labelling were required. Nearly all communication was between the machines and the products through a wireless network, with the only human input coming from the person placing the sample order.

Elsewhere in many countries, automated machines able to fetch and assemble components with limited human input are being installed in industrial factories. Other companies are also using thousands of sensors in their factories to collect data during manufacturing processes. The sensors not only alert workers to changes in production output, but can also allow machines to adjust without human intervention, for example, when certain types of fragile material enter the assembly line.

Benefits, drivers and obstacles

The main benefits of moving to smart manufacturing are improved quality, adaptability, product innovation, lower costs and increased efficiency, including energy efficiency, and productivity.

Other benefits include less specialization required for workers to perform previously technically intensive analysis and tasks, quicker customization of products and shorter innovation cycles, enabling faster responses to customer needs and changes in the marketplace and environment, as well as speedier product introductions.

Digital technologies will be a major driver of smart manufacturing, as they are central to the fusion of the physical and virtual worlds by enabling machine to machine communication and autonomously acting smart production processes. "We are deeply convinced that the fourth industrial revolution will be driven through digital transformation," Capgemini Consulting said in a 2014 report.

The increase of low-cost sensor technologies means that many manufacturing processes and components are becoming potential sources of data. The ability to make better use of the huge volume of 'big data' collected and exchanged within the network of billions of devices and users (the IoT), and to monetize it profitably, will be one of the main business drivers of smart manufacturing.

According to a 2015 study by the market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC), commissioned by Microsoft, the potential global additional value of the "data dividend" in smart manufacturing could be as much as USD 371 billion over the next four years. This would come from high-value areas identified in the IDC study as employee productivity, operational efficiency, product innovation and better customer engagement models.

In Germany, respondents to a survey of manufacturing companies conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering cited what they saw as the main hurdles to creating a smart factory. They included unresolved questions about IT security, a lack of standards, the advanced qualifications needed by personnel, the as yet inadequate performance of the ICT infrastructure and high investment costs.

IEC and International Standards key to smart manufacturing

As more companies adopt smart processes, connecting manufacturers with logistics providers and other factories in similar industries via the IoT will require integration and interoperability standards. There is growing awareness that for manufacturing to be safe, sustainable and energy efficient, standards that are globally recognized must be met. IEC International Standards and Conformity Assessment systems already play a key role in improving factory and equipment safety and enhancing product reliability and quality. Other relevant areas include wireless communication network and communication profiles – WirelessHART™, and cybersecurity.

To ensure smart manufacturing can rely on relevant standards, the IEC Standardization Management Board (SMB) set up a new Strategic Group, SG 8: Industry 4.0 – Smart Manufacturing, in 2014. Its scope includes defining terminology, summarizing existing standards and standardization projects in progress, and developing a common strategy for the implementation of smart manufacturing.

SG 8 will enhance cooperation and establish new liaisons with IEC Technical Committees. It indicates that the preliminary inventory of standards will come from the following IEC Technical Committees (TCs):

  • TC 3: Information structures and elements, identification and marking principles, documentation and graphical symbols,
  • TC 17: High-voltage switchgear and controlgear
  • TC 22: Power electronic systems and equipment
  • TC 44: Safety of machinery - Electrotechnical aspects
  • TC 65: Industrial‑process measurement, control and automation
  • TC 77: Electromagnetic compatibility
  • TC 111: Environmental standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems
  • TC 121: Switchgear and controlgear and their assemblies for low voltage
  • CISPR: International special committee on radio interference, and its SCs

In addition to these, SG 8 indicates that some standards will also come from ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27: IT security techniques, the Subcommittee (SC) set up in the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1 created by the IEC and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop standards for Information technology.

Other organizations, such as the International Society of Automation (ISA), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), will also provide standards, according to SG 8, which states that the goal of this work and liaisons with other organizations will be to achieve system compatibility, interoperability and functional exchangeability.

Market forecasts point to uninterrupted healthy growth

In the context of the worldwide trend towards industrial automation, there is great potential for growth in the smart manufacturing market. IHS forecasts that the global market for motors, generators, controllers and other industrial automation equipment, which totalled USD 169,4 billion in 2013, will grow to almost USD 200 billion in 2016 and reach USD 210 billion in 2018.

A March 2014 Markets and Markets report forecast that the global smart sensor market would grow to USD 10,46 billion in 2020 from USD 650 million in 2012, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36,25% from 2013 to 2020.

Al this point to a busy agenda for SG 8 and for all IEC TCs involved in standardization work for smart manufacturing-related systems and services.

Automation, assemblaggio-collettori-El.Ma. Electronic Machining Automation is key to smart manufacturing
Baumer Hyg Washdown sensor All kinds of sensors play a central role in smart manufacturing
RFID-reader-writer RFID reader/writer