Whether your ambition is to boost productivity, flexibility and up-time, or to be quicker to market than the competition, Industry 4.0 is going to be the means of delivery. Indeed, the smart factory in which processes are fully automated and meaningful data can be accessed on demand is a vision of the future that is moving ever closer.

In recent months, the conversation around Industry 4.0 has been shifting from agreeing the general theory and potential benefits to a discussion about how we can deliver the transition in a practical way. There are several factors that need to coalesce in order for Industry 4.0 to become a reality:

  • strong political and economic incentives,
  • the correct investment in skills and training,
  • the availability of advanced tools that make implementation easy.

While as individual companies we have limited influence over the political and economic delivery mechanisms, it is clear that Industry 4.0 implementation needs to be built into every organization: from a company’s forward planning and investment priorities to its training schedule.

As a leading manufacturer of assembly solutions, Desoutter is going through the same process as its customers in relation to Industry 4.0 implementation. Indeed, we consider that a crucial part of our product development program is to anticipate what our customers will need next. We have therefore made it our business to understand and influence the implementation of Industry 4.0 wherever possible. The e-book Desoutter 4.0: Accelerating Your Transformation, published in 2017, is tangible proof of this commitment and enables companies in different sectors to understand the current uptake of Industry 4.0 within their industry and what the next steps are likely to require in terms of investment and technology.

Within our own assembly solutions business, producing the e-book encouraged us to collaborate even more closely with people at many levels and in many different industries to understand the challenges they face. Based on this knowledge, we developed an Industry 4.0 checklist to define the benefits that assembly tool systems would need to deliver in order to enable the factories of the future. Here are the criteria that we identified :

  • Easier, more flexible tool and software management
  • Less hardware, more connectivity
  • Intuitive, foolproof operation
  • Minimal time required for setup and reconfiguration
  • Forwards compatibility and future-proofing

These factors became a sort of blueprint for a new phase of product development, in which we sought to anticipate what our customers would need in terms of multi-tool management in order to implement Industry 4.0 principles. The result is called CONNECT, a new industrial smart hub that will deliver a real step change in assembly line production.

Tooled up

CONNECT comprises a smart hub which provides a single point of connection for communications between the factory network and up to 20 Desoutter solutions. It takes advantage of developments such as wireless technology and app-based customization to deliver on all the benefits we had pre-determined as critical for implementing Industry 4.0.

For example, easier, more flexible tool and software management is achievable because each connected device is programmable individually. Each device is assigned a Tightening Unit on the CONNECT platform, which acts as its eco-system and contains all items, actions, and information related to it. Each device can therefore be customized, programmed, interrogated or reassigned without the need to reconfigure the whole system. Equally, a new cordless device can be added whenever desired without disrupting other tools that are already running on the line.

It takes just ten seconds to pair up a Desoutter wireless device to CONNECT using RFID technology, which makes line rebalancing incredibly easy. It also keeps the time required for set-up or reconfiguration down to a minimum – in response to another of our key Industry 4.0 criteria.

Application-based customization is a key feature of the new smart hub, offering a scalable and flexible solution which allows customers to add new features whenever the requirements on their production lines change. Although CONNECT is supplied with the majority of features that will be required for general operations, users have the option to add what further features they need to customize the hub whenever they want, thanks to Desoutter feature management. Customizing CONNECT simply involves activating the required feature via a touchscreen interface, making this a quick and intuitive process. Features can also be transferred effortlessly from one Tightening Unit to another in response to changing production requirements.

For additional flexibility and responsiveness, the CONNECT hub itself features a removeable, integrated memory that allows data and settings from one CONNECT to be transferred to another in a fast and effective way. This level of agility enables customers to reconfigure their assembly lines within minutes rather than hours.

Another key feature of CONNECT is its compact size. With a volume of only one gallon, it is easy to install anywhere in the plant: at the workstation, at the end of the production line, on the process manager’s desk, or even in the server room. This not only frees up production space, it also offers the opportunity for improved efficiency, enabling these smart hubs to be located wherever it is most convenient.

As digitalization becomes increasingly common, traceability and security of data are key concerns. CONNECT is therefore equipped to offer reliable data acquisition and processing on a secure and stable platform. Information is collected and stored in real time, but is easily and securely accessible via a web browser, offering total data traceability. It is also possible to generate reports at the click of a button.

Having ticked off four of our five Industry 4.0 criteria, the last challenge was to ensure forwards compatibility, by fully committing to the technology ourselves. So, not only is the current family of Desoutter Wi-Fi solutions compatible with CONNECT, all new devices in development will also be compatible, ensuring the hub is “future proof”.

Conclusion

Progress is inevitable, and the smart factory is on its way. However, manufacturers don’t have to wait to build an entire new facility in order to begin implementing Industry 4.0 principles. With the development of new control solutions such as CONNECT, benefits such as more flexible working, reduced setup and greater productivity are already within reach. Moreover, the investment is protected because the technology will be compatible with any future tooling developments, ensuring the transition is permanent.