A new type of production is about to turn the industrial world on its head. In fact, such is its potential impact that industry experts are already talking about the next industrial revolution, calling it Industry 4.0. Central to this revolution are cyber-physical production systems that synergize conventional production technology and IT, allowing machines and products to communicate with each other in the Internet of Things.
Through “embedded systems”, products in the production process will one day be able to actively tell machines what processing steps to perform next. Sensors will report where these so-called “smart products” are currently located in the production process and relay notifications of where improvements are needed. In this way, processes will control themselves decentrally. The scale of networking that we are already familiar with in the consumer sphere is therefore set to become reality in the world of production, too.
The aim of Industry 4.0 is to increase flexibility and productivity. As such, manufacturers will be able to produce customer-specific components fast, cost-effectively, and in small quantities – while automated processes will simultaneously ensure that individual component parts are re-ordered and that the order remains fully transparent within the company. And one thing is clear: IT will play an even greater role in the production process than it has in the past.
As a key trend, Industry 4.0 is drawing a great deal of attention in Germany, and the German government is making major efforts to support the intensive research that is currently taking place in this area. Not surprisingly, Industry 4.0 is one of ten forward-looking projects that feature in the government’s High-Tech Strategy.
Researching for the next industrial revolution
Together with its industrial and research partners, SAP’s global research organization, SAP Research, is conducting intensive investigations into this new type of production. For example, it is taking part in the RES-COM project, which is co-sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is chiefly concerned with deploying machine-to-machine communication to promote the efficient use of resources. SAP Research’s core partners in this project include Siemens and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). The researchers are also looking at how the IT platforms of the future will enable machines, systems, and people to interact across enterprise boundaries in what is referred to the Business Web.
In this context, the team from SAP Research is working on merging data from various sources in order to simplify access to information. If a service incident occurs in a production facility, for example, the responsible specialist can easily obtain a complete overview of all the necessary data: who operates the facility, which SAP systems and databases are in use, and what production orders are still outstanding. Currently, data such as this has to be obtained separately from operators, manufacturers, and others. SAP is deploying cloud technology to implement asset information management, because it simplifies data integration.
SAP’s vision of asset information management stems from a cooperation project with Endress+Hauser, a company that specializes in measuring instruments, services, and solutions for industrial process engineering. Endress+Hauser’s customers manufacture and operate industrial assets such as chemical plants and beer-bottling facilities. These assets consist of thousands of individual components, including sensors that measure level, flow, and pH values. When one of these intelligent components relays a message requesting maintenance or reporting a malfunction, the responsible technicians often require information that is stored in various different IT systems operated by different stakeholders. This information includes manuals, maintenance histories, malfunction reasons, and currently available software updates or firmware.
With the help of asset information management, all this information can be merged transparently for the maintenance technician in a fraction of a second – irrespective of which database it is stored in. This not only saves time and money, it also increases plant availability.
On the road to a new standard
Two more projects will kick off in September 2012. Following an appeal by the German government at the start of the year, 37 applications for sponsorship were filed for projects relating to the topic of Industry 4.0. Of the three projects selected, two involve SAP.
In the first project, SAP is aiming to deploy SAP HANA to interpret large volumes of production data and to use this information to optimize ongoing production processes. This project is all about steering production in such a way that resources, particularly time, are used efficiently. Also involved in the project is RWTH Aachen, which recently earned the title of “elite university” once again.
Another forward-looking project connected with Industry 4.0 focuses on managing the deployment of manufacturing workers. This project is taking place in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO). Currently, when employees are needed for extra shifts, they are required to enter their availability on a notepad on the factory floor. In the future, however, employees will receive a message on their smartphone asking them whether they are available to work and when. The idea is that the employee receives a simple request on his or her smartphone and can then decide whether to work an extra number of hours on a given day. At the same time, the company can see at a glance whether the employee is actually entitled to do overtime. This social network-style approach is intended to simplify the tedious process of coordinating shifts and to make data available quickly in systems such as SAP ERP. As a result, employees can easily add or take credits from their time accounts and the company can keep its production process flexible. Bearing in mind the highly volatile nature of production demand, the ability to deploy employees flexibly is a major advantage.
Find out more: