Industry 4.0 is the next stage on from the automation systems that many companies within the sheet metal industry are already embracing. Rob Powell, Commercial Director at Lantek UK talks about Industry 4.0 and what that means for sheet metal manufacturers.
We have supplied many CADCAM systems and we see that manufacturers understand the need for sheet handling systems such as stacker systems for the automated loading of multiple sizes and specifications of material and the unloading, stacking and sorting of finished parts using automated handling systems such as chutes and robots. This type of equipment enables profiling and punching machines to operate without manual intervention, avoids wasted time on the machine for loading and unloading and frees up operators to do other tasks such as deburring and sorting while the machine is cutting.
With this type of automation, manufacturers are keeping their machines running for a much higher proportion of the time, maximising return on investment. Additional benefits include flexibility of manufacture, making it possible to change between one job and another without lengthy setup times. Already within the CADCAM software we can nest and mix parts according to material thickness and type, reuse remnants, and link to MRP systems so that manufacture can accurately fit in with orders and delivery schedules.
The step to Industry 4.0 looks at the whole of a manufacturer’s business and incorporates intelligence and autonomous decision making into the mix to produce a ‘smart factory’. By creating a virtual model of the factory, which uses information fed back from the machines, processes and sensors and by making this available from almost any location by means of the Internet of Things (IOT), factories in the future will be able to run automatically, for the most part, only flagging up issues to managers when anomalies outside the automated decision making capabilities of the system are detected.
Clearly, this is a little way off reality at the moment, but companies like ours, with our Lantek Factory concept, are making big strides to make it happen. Collaboration with machine tool manufacturers is a key part of this process. Where possible, we can already collect information from the machine tool about its status which can be fed back into our sheet metal MES system, automatically updating the manufacturing schedule and adjusting job times and costs and comparing them with the plan. The systems we are able to offer cover every type of machine and also extend into other processes such as welding, painting and assembly with our Lantek Workshop Capture web system providing live feedback of manufacturing activity, specifically designed for fabrication plants.
Currently, automated decision making includes reordering of material and the creation of manufacturing orders to produce more parts when stock levels are low in our Lantek Integra Inventory module, while information fed back after each event goes to refine the system for future manufacturing to deliver increasingly accurate quotations, cost control and hence profits. Already, Lantek Integra, which is at the heart of the Lantek Factory concept, is fully web based. This makes it possible to access data and reports via IOT for remotely located factories from cloud based information. Tasks that require extensive processing like CADCAM are currently an exception to this and, at the moment, are better handled locally.
A major factor driving Industry 4.0 is the increasing importance of the supply chain integrating customers and suppliers with high levels of transparency. Not only will this demand the delivery high levels of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) which will be made possible with the implementation of Industry 4.0 principles but, for those companies that take up the challenge, will engender loyalty and significantly higher value business from their customers.
We are seeing growing interest in the principles of Industry 4.0 as manufacturers appreciate the benefits it can deliver for their whole business. At the moment we are only at the start of this revolution with a lot more development and integration to come covering every aspect of a business and the performance of its machinery and resources. As part of this process we have just agreed a global innovation partnership with world leading manufacturer Bystronic, which is planned to result in the most advanced sheet metal production facilities ever constructed.