GF Machining Solutions envisions the smart factory of the future
Imagine a future in which even the most complex and demanding industries enjoy intelligent, high-performance, resource efficient and fully predictive manufacturing. That is the vision of GF Machining Solutions and the ultimate destination of Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 is known by a wide variety of names: the factory of the future, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, smart factories, brilliant factories or, at the Swiss level, Industry 2025. Regardless of the name, the vision brings together a constellation of intelligence and modern automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. Chief among these are:
- Adaptive cyber-physical systems, engineered from seamless integration of computational algorithms and physical components including machine tools.
- The Internet of Things and Services, a system connecting any device or machine to the Internet and/or with other devices, and enabling objects to become “smart” and to gather, analyze and exploit massive amounts of data (big data analytics). The Internet of Things and Services is disrupting business models and giving rise to powerhouse new services.
Pioneering the development of Industry 4.0 for manufacturing are research institutions like RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute of Production Technology as well as manufacturing solutions leader and research collaborator GF Machining Solutions.
Solutions to meet industry’s challenges
Examples of how Industry 4.0 benefits manufacturers can easily be found in a wide variety of industries, says Roberto Perez, Head of Industry 4.0, at GF Machining Solutions. “Our strategy focuses on industrial segments that share the challenges of consistently maintaining highest productivity, quality and accuracy in their manufacturing processes while optimizing costs and increasing agility and flexibility amidst the market turmoil. At the same time, we must provide solutions for specific requirements, like the aerospace and medical industries’ need for surface integrity and process traceability,” Perez explains. “Our Industry 4.0 approach is to envision intelligent manufacturing solutions that will target fully predictive processes, which could be readily tuned to the best performance with respect to specific but fast-changing requirements faced by complex manufacturing businesses”.
Digitization makes it possible
Making those solutions possible is digitization, the conversion of information into a digital format that can be understood by computer systems. Digitization establishes the foundation for cyber-physical systems. GF Machining Solutions’ machines have already some features of such systems, which are capable of sensing and acting in the physical world, and “thinking” in the cyber world.
That “thinking,” which includes planning, analyzing, modelling, memorizing, combining, and optimizing in the cyber world, can then be fed back into the physical world of manufacturing. Examples are machine tools with intelligent vision units or that are connected to measurement machines delivering in-process characterization and error compensation and making self-optimizing manufacturing cells, the ultimate stage in the Industry 4.0 vision. Nevertheless, when installed in the customer environment, information does not flow smoothly in such systems due to the lack of interoperability and the dependence on human intervention.
“Our Industry 4.0 approach envisions a seamless, connected factory where cyber-physical systems communicate and collaborate with each other, but also, at a new level, with our customers and employees,” Perez says. The backbone of such complex software and hardware integration will be provided through a joint venture with CIMFORCE, a company which has developed the bridges between sophisticated but disparate software products currently used by the most advanced industries in our strategic segments.
“Thanks to this partnership, we are developing cyber-physical systems that enable the essential steps of continuous process improvement: plan, execute, sense, optimize,” says Perez. “Integrated on different layers, from the shop floor to the logistics and human resource management systems that will interact autonomously with one another, the ‘smart factory’ will be highly intelligent: every facet will contribute to optimization of the overall factory.”
Perez said GF Machining Solutions’ engineers and customers will always play an active, decision-making role but, under Industry 4.0, they will be helped by new simulation and sensor-enriched monitoring tools, following up in real time and keeping traceable records of the key process indicators: “This will save our customers time to innovate and expand their markets, and to meet the key requirements for making a profitable business in a competitive and volatile economic environment.”
“The high-level interaction of virtual mirrors of the part quality, such as our existing eTracking, with our experts’ knowledge, will define the first step in the architecture of a fully intelligent environment,” Perez explains. “In further steps, the systems will provide real-time, reconfigurable process-flow optimization with GF Machining Solutions’ embedded expertise. On the service side, the Division’s systems will target autonomy with remote system health and logistics management, reinforcing our business relationships with customers.”
Building on existing intelligence
If that all seems like a giant leap from the First Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries when rural societies in Europe and North America became industrial and urban, that is because it is. Industry 4.0 builds on that milestone period as well as the Second Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries when advancements in manufacturing and production technology enabled widespread adoption of preexisting technological systems, and the late 1950s to the present day Third Industrial Revolution change from mechanical and electronic technology to digital technology.
In the machine tool industry, Industry 4.0 is also about extending existing system intelligence into adjacent systems and, from there, into complex manufacturing systems where the machine manufacturer, the suppliers and the owner may be constantly connected for providing remote service and process improvements. GF Machining Solutions’ rConnect, the machine tool industry’s most in-depth remote machine tool analysis, is a good example, Perez states. The technology demonstrates how manufacturing’s digital transformation is creating opportunities for manufacturers to increase their machine uptime while operating in the best condition.
The first phase of rConnect, Live Remote Assistance, allows customer-authorized remote assistance and connects the customer in real time with the local diagnostics center and GF Machining Solutions plants in real time. It allows remote inspection of the machine tool with diagnostic performed by a technician or the customer. Any resulting maintenance is performed on site by a service engineer.
“In the future, rConnect will be a bridge to technologies that could, for example, predict the lifetime of machine components and consumables,” Perez says in summary. “In line with Industry 4.0, rConnect is just one more step toward eliminating process downtime, improving machine performance, and ensuring a fully predictive manufacturing process and product quality.”