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3. May 2017 | Markets & Companies

Industry 4.0: “Start today or be left behind”

Some coatings manufacturers are already dipping into the digitalisation, but others are holding back. We donned our coatings goggles for a look around the Hanover Fair, the largest industrial fair in the world, and came up with one or two discoveries.

At steel producer Salzgitter, the data headsets are simply mounted to the helmet.

Industry 4.0 is one of those buzz phrases that can mean everything and nothing. Anyone coming to the Hanover fair intent on getting to grips with the topic is immediately confronted with 6,500 exhibitors offering all kinds of solutions, and that really does not make the task any easier. The question, what the buzzword "Industry 4.0” actually means is the topic of the latest blog by our editor Kirsten Wrede.

But it’s worth a visit all the same, because if you do find the right partner you can do a lot for your paint factory. For instance, you’ll find systems that can even upgrade old manufacturing machines to make them fit digital production. One such system is Mapp technology displayed by B+R Automation, Austria.

Upgrading old paint machines for Industry 4.0

All it takes to get digital readings from a 20- or 30-year-old machine is a small electronic component. The maker claims that retrofits can be done in about an hour without the need for a programmer. This is done by connecting a special box, for example, to an existing bus interface. Often, small sensors can be retrofitted to existing devices as well.

Industry 4.0

An easy-to-use analytical software, like this one from B+R, then makes it easy to quickly track down sources of production faults.

The easy-to-use analytical software then makes it easy to quickly track down sources of production faults. The interface relies on intuitive visualizations and is easy to use via a touchscreen. Moreover, the data from the entire process chain can be combined and analysed for the presence of undetected bottle necks in the production chain. B+R uses the technology in its own factory, but also came to Hanover with a concept developed in tandem with Nestlé for the food industry. It would likely only be a small step to transfer this concept from there to coatings production.

Start today or be left behind tomorrow

This and similar systems can help facilitate entry into digital production. For Prof. Dieter Wegener from Siemens, at least, it is patently obvious that there is no alternative. He is also the spokesman for the Industry 4.0 Management Team at ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association). During a panel discussion on the opportunities that Industry 4.0 offers for small and medium-sized enterprises he said, "The transition to industry 4.0 will take time, but if you don’t start today, you'll be left behind tomorrow." Even to have a sensible monitoring system would be a worthwhile start, added Martin Hankel, who was representing Bosch Rexroth on the panel. He talked about a real case in which a comparison of two production lines showed that the use of digital sensors increased productivity by a good 20%.

Of course, if you want to address the increasingly complex requirements of modern coatings production, you’ll also need to have the right software. In addition to the major vendors such as Oracle, SAP and Microsoft, there were a few specialists offering branch-specific solutions at the fair. CosmoConsult, for example, offers an ErP solution which is based on Microsoft Dynamics NAV and has been modified for the chemicals and coatings industries.

ErP System for Coatings manufacturers

2) Michael Hering from CosmoConsult explains the ErP system for the paints industry.

The software is designed, e.g., to work with formulations instead of unchanging parts lists and comes with integrated vessel management, batch tracking and automatic data sheet generation in various languages. It also simulates changeover times and tool variants in production. The system furthermore integrates research & development as well as sample dispatching.

Industry 4.0 = mixed reality lenses

The sheer number of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) headsets was also striking. Paint-specific systems of this kind were already exhibited at the European Coatings Show, but it’s worth looking at what other industries are doing. Salzgitter AG, for example, has developed an AR headset for the steel industry. Like other headsets, it projects information directly into the employee’s field of view and can be operated by gesture control.

Robot laser sword

3) There is limited scope for these industrial robots to use their laser swords in coatings production. But they are nice to look at

And Salzgitter has neatly solved the problem of wear comfort. The headsets are simply mounted to the safety helmets, which employees have to wear in production anyway. The batteries, too, are attached to the helmet. This means that they are not worn on the body and do not have to be connected to the headset via a potentially troublesome cable. The next development step will be to implement integrated gesture control using a glove equipped with sensors. This means that the hand will no longer have to be held in the field of view of a built-in infrared camera.

A stroll around the trade fair shows that Industry 4.0. is not waiting around for the chemicals or coatings industries to catch up. The mechanical and electrical engineering sectors are setting the pace and they seem to be much further ahead when it comes to digitisation. Sometimes having a look at what others are doing can be worth while.

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