The Building Blocks of Industry 4.0

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Last month, whilst at IPC APEX EXPO, I took part in a roundtable on the building blocks of Industry 4.0 hosted by Scoop, and with panellist from Mentor Graphics and Saline Lectronics, an EMS firm from the United States. Here is my take on what I heard in that panel and during the show.

It was exciting to see that the debate had moved on from one that included only vendors to something that involved customers, with real experiences alongside vendors and of course integrators like ourselves.

Tom Scales, IT and systems support manager from Saline, talked about the ‘jumping off’ point and the need to identify real key performance indicators (KPI) that allow you to understand exactly what you want to achieve from the deployment of an IoM or smart factory solution. Tom talked about identifying the numbers that need to be considered, how to really understand objectives and setting realistic, but measurable targets.

KevinDecker-Weiss_CircuitByte_SCOOP.jpgFor me one of the most interesting parts of Tom's input was the idea of ‘having a go’ and jumping in with some KPIs and seeing what happens, then using that to evolve the next stage of the process, with new KPIs informed by experience. Clearly, IoM is a broad topic and many companies struggle to see how to get started, this ‘jump in and see where it takes you’ approach, secured by defined objectives, with real KPIs and good partners really resonates with what we are seeing in the market right now.

Michael Ford from Mentor underlined the importance of bringing all the different pieces of software together to get the best possible results, again focussed on real, measurable outcomes. There’s a lot of data out there, from machine vendors, from smaller software packages and from larger MES systems. The challenge is bringing it all together to achieve tangible gains.

As an integrator, our fist task is to listen to customers and understand what they want to achieve. Adding our knowledge to see if their expectations are reasonable, and acting, where needed, as a referee to ensure that expectations and reality stay in line, not just at the outset, but as the process evolves.

One area of real positives is the desire of everyone in the ecosystem to collaborate. Tom explained that he was impressed with the willingness of vendors to work together and with the way that collaboration had led to the meeting of their needs as well as new ideas and initiatives that added further value to the process. Collaboration is clearly key to success. Hardware, software, integrator and end user need to be fully aligned.

As an integrator, we enjoy working in such a collaborative environment. That isn’t to say that we don’t occasionally need to bang heads to get everyone aligned, or stand up and be the voice of reason, but we certainly see more open and meaningful collaboration now than ever before.

Michael from Mentor said, “I don’t think there will ever be one solution or smart factory, and various expertise resides with machine vendors, and they want to play in this space.”

Data is of course the oil that lubricates the entire ecosystem and the need for that to be standardised was also discussed at APEX. Progress is being made in this area, but it needs to be rolled out in a timely and efficient way to achieve what the industry is demanding.

One of the other key areas discussed was the need to take the whole process and data stream beyond the factory floor, starting from design and going all the way through the supply chain. This is where we utilise third party software, like the Valor suite from Mentor Graphics, our own software elements, like BOM Connector and, of course, the software that resides in the machines and processes used by the customer.

It was encouraging to have an EMS provider on the panel with us and even more so to have the IT manager from an EMS. In many ways, Industry 4.0 or IoM is the intersection between IT and operations within a manufacturer. Having both departments working in harmony and sharing objectives is a great start for any implementation plan.

All in all, it was very encouraging, both on the roundtable and during the discussions I had on the show floor. I’m looking forward to more collaboration that delivers results and shows the best way to get started toward Industry 4.0.

To see the debate, watch the video below. It's just a little more than 10 minutes, so grab a coffee and listen to some real advice on getting started—from someone who knows.

ScoopTalk at APEX 2017 - The Building Blocks of Industry 4.0


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