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Manufacturing’s information revolution

June 7, 2018
How Industry 4.0 can help to turn machines into data centers

As we transition from an Industry 3.0 world and its islands of automation to an Industry 4.0 world with connected automation, too many people are still failing to take advantage of its benefits. There is a revolution coming to manufacturing, and you need to ask yourself whether you are going to be part of it or are you going to be left behind.

Think of Industry 4.0 as the type of disruption that the iPhone bought to our everyday life a little more than 10 years ago. Thanks to carrying a connected computer (iPhone) on our person all the time, information is instantly at our fingertips. We now have an instant connection to a world of information. Think about how your day-to-day life has changed in the past 10 years thanks to smart phones.

If you are in operations at a manufacturing facility, how has your facility changed since 2007? Has tracking your personnel and your equipment’s performance changed significantly? Maybe you have added or looked at adding a SCADA or manufacturing execution system, but how readily is the data available to you? How much investment was required? Is all your equipment on the system? What kind of improvements can you implement from that data?

In Industry 3.0, the PLC controlled most all the automation on a plant floor. A manufacturing engineer that knew your plant’s brand of PLC well could diagnose and improve the equipment on the plant floor.

Today, more and more PC-based systems and smart vision, motion and tracking systems are on the floor. There is no way for a manufacturing engineer to be a master of all these systems.

Data, data everywhere

Most of these systems are spitting out data usually in some type of table or report, often in a crude format. The manufacturing engineer on the floor does not have the time to analyze all these reports. I recently spoke with a manufacturing engineer that showed me a spreadsheet of 70 data points from a machine for every part they ran. He asked me, “What am I supposed to do with all of this data?”

Why does the person analyzing the data need to be at your facility? Data scientists are experts at correlating data. Artificial intelligence (AI) has made tremendous improvements in the past decade; let’s apply AI and data science to manufacturing.

There are a whole bunch of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers out there who have spent their lives married to manufacturing. They have spent more than 60 hours a week, including a lot of weekends, making sure that the Industry 3.0 equipment was operating at peak efficiency but in the meantime missing birthdays, anniversaries and other life events.

Many Millennials refuse to take the “live to work” approach that their elders took. Though very talented, they prefer a “work to live” life balance. They are used to having information at their fingertips and get quite frustrated when information from the plant floor cannot be quickly and easily accessed.

Most of the pushback today for implementing Industry 4.0 is with cyber concerns. Cybersecurity is a huge issue, and manufacturers often falsely think a fortress-type model is their best solution. The best strategy is defense-in-depth. Packet monitoring and tracking, good protocol, dual authentication and smart switches all can help to build a cybersecurity plan that opens your automation systems to only the proper individuals and companies.

Most automation systems are designed using some type of simulation software. Though that simulation is close to the physical system, it is only a simulation. To make the simulation a true digital twin of the physical system you need to give it feedback from the real-world timing of the system (Figure 1). This is how a true digital twin is achieved.

Digital twinning

Figure 1: The IIoT and business analytics close the loop between physical and virtual systems.

If the digital twin is a true representation of the physical system, you can now make modifications to your system on the digital twin before risking changes in the production equipment. Many suppliers such as Siemens have developed simulations so that you can test your PLC code on the digital twin without affecting production.


How do you deliver a system to your client? Most deliver the system along with prints and manuals, and tell the client good luck. Do you deliver the digital twin? Do you maintain the digital twin? Maybe the client will call you occasionally when it has an issue it can’t solve and then you must put a technician on a flight to your client’s facility. A dispute may arise as to whether the service call should be covered under warranty.

Now, as a supplier, imagine having visibility into the system you sold your client. You know how best to operate and maintain this equipment and can help your client to get the most beneficial use out of the system you sold. You can improve your future systems by analyzing your existing systems in the field. You can even prevent those dreaded dead-in-the-water calls. You maintain a connection to your client that you have had not had before. You are in a better position to sell that client upgrades and new systems.

In your everyday life, whenever you surf the Web, buy products or sign up for a company’s rewards program, your data is being used. If you are not using the data that comes out of your manufacturing systems today, you’d better figure out how to use it tomorrow, or you are going to be left behind.

ALSO READ: Case study: Hits and misses in an actual IIoT implementation

About the author: Sam Hoff
Sam Hoff is chief executive officer at Patti Engineering in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Contact him at [email protected].
At the summit

Sam Hoff, CEO of Patti Engineering will present "How MindSphere Can Revolutionize Your Facility" at 10 am on June 26 at Siemens Automation Summit at the JW Marriott Marco Beach Resort in Marco Island, Florida. Register for the summit here.

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