Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, factory of the future - call it what you will, the evolution of manufacturing is underway, at least for some UK manufacturers. Across the country, businesses vary drastically in their adoption of these smart technologies. Some have been embracing digitalisation for years, with forward-thinking factories harnessing technology to automate processes or gather and analyse data to improve production, while others are watching from the side lines, yet to take the leap.
Yet if you read about smart manufacturing or factories of the future, promises of greater productivity, quality and efficiency are commonplace. So, why are manufacturers yet to fully embrace the new dawn of connected manufacturing? For many, the answer lies in the cost - or the perceived cost - of digitalisation. The initial investment in smart technology can be enough to put many manufacturers off making the move to a smarter way of working, but the benefits of real-time quality check, continuous improvement and equipment maintenance will undoubtedly lead to cost savings and productivity improvements.
Let’s explore some of the benefits of investing in smart drive technology.
1) Manufacturing agility: Get products to market, fast.
In the past, improvements to any manufacturing facility were carried out on the basis that they would improve the efficiency, quality and effectiveness of either the manufacturing process or the product itself. However, customer demands are changing and the manufacturing industry and technology is being forced to adapt to keep up. More and more often, products need to be produced in small, highly customised batches, putting pressure on businesses to reduce their time-to-market and adapt to changes in demand. To do so, businesses need to invest in technology that gives them the flexibility to adapt quickly to fulfil demand.
In older, less agile manufacturing environments, changes in production processes required an investment in new technology and resulted in significant downtime while a changeover was implemented. In today’s world, critical drive and control technology can be configured at a digital level rather than a physical one, enabling manufacturing facilities to support customisation of products and meet customer demand in a far quicker and more cost-effective way without significant downtime.
2) An investment in energy efficient technology.
Reducing carbon footprint, saving the world or making cost-savings by reducing energy bills? Whatever your motivation, investing in systems that reduce energy usage is a win-win situation.
By moving to cabinet-free drive technology, users can actively reduce energy consumption in a number of ways. Until recently drive technology has been designed in such a way that drives and related wiring were enclosed within a cabinet. To avoid overheating, fans or AC units had to be used to cool the high temperatures within the enclosure. With cabinet-free drive technology, the cooling hardware - and the energy required to run it - becomes completely redundant.
The system also features energetic coupling via the hybrid cable - at a basic level, this means it is able to generate energy which can be put back into the system. If, for example, one drive brakes, the energy created by the brakes can now be used to power another drive within the machine. An additional ‘Smart Energy Mode’ on the power supply evens out the surges in power demand reducing the peak loads of the machine. This added energy efficiency helps to realise energy savings of up to 50 per cent.
3) Open core: a new era in automation programming.
As with all manufacturing processes, machine manufacturers often look for ways to speed up time-consuming tasks and shorten delivery times. Bosch Rexroth’s IndraDrive technology features Sequential Motion Control (SMC) - a function which reduces users’ programming and commissioning time by up to 90 per cent compared to PLC programming.
Using open-core software engineering opens up new opportunities - both by enhancing processes by creating bespoke software tools and by tapping into a whole new skillset. High level software languages, or even standard PC packages such as Excel, can be used to produce common data collection programs that are run at the IT level, and not at the machine PLC level.
As well as making it far simpler and faster to collate production data from a number of machines without the need for time-consuming PLC coding on each individual machine, open core helps to bridge the skills gap by opening systems up to a range of programming languages. The result is increased flexibility and a quicker time to market - saving time and money in the process.
Additional efficiencies can also be realised out-of-the-box. Using a series of pre-defined commands stored in a function library, users can easily achieve a range of common functions - from positioning axis, master and slave axes couplings, synchronous axis operation, cam profile applications and sequential movements. With no need for an external motion control system, hardware costs are reduced and system integration is simplified. The result is a far faster turnaround and an increase in ROI.
4) Reduce downtime using machine diagnostics.
Another hot topic - and one anyone in manufacturing is aware of - predictive maintenance. While there has been a definite shift in recent years, many facilities are still trying to reduce the impact of downtime by repairing equipment before strictly necessary. The cabinet free drive technology we provide at Bosch Rexroth can collect and record data such as vibration, temperature, torque, position and speed via the motor and the decentrally-wired sensors. This data is collected, stored and analysed in order to detect issues before they result in failure. In doing so, manufacturing facilities can avoid unplanned downtime, or even complete shutdown of equipment, all of which can have a catastrophic impact on the company’s bottom line.
5) Reduce initial outlay with simple installation
Intelligent system design can reduce both the cost of the initial components and the installation time itself. Rexroth’s IndraDrive Mi technology allows machinery manufacturers to relocate their complete drive technology - including mains connectivity - from the control cabinet directly into the machine itself. As a result of this clever design, the system uses 90 per cent less wiring - reducing hardware costs and installation time. By using cabinet free drive technology- which essentially combines drive electronics and motor technology into a single unit - the system uses less hardware and takes up less space on the shop floor.
In conclusion: Outlay vs ROI
While ROI can be a way of building a solid business case for investment in technology - including the cost savings associated with faster turnaround, easier programming and reduction in downtime - it focusses purely on what happens after an investment has taken place. What it fails to take into account is the business impact of not making the investment at all. Changes in consumer demand, a requirement for a fast turnaround and increased personalisation have resulted in a huge shift in the way companies operate. Businesses that fail to invest are running the risk of being unable to meet demand and falling behind competitors. When it comes to ROI, there can’t be a much stronger argument for investment.
Paul Streatfield, Strategic Product Manager, Bosch Rexroth