Internet of Things (IoT) is the most discussed topic these days. Every organization, rather, every individual seems to have vast and varied definitions for what IoT means to them. In general all definitions revolve around connected-ness or interoperability of differing systems to make sense of plethora of data streaming from devices and machines at all levels. This grand vision attempts to connect individual consumers to the production value chain to provide the never-before-seen customized product experience.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a small subsection of the grand vision– which in itself is huge visionary concept- that foresees the next generation of industrial automation. German government termed it as Industry 4.0 initiative, while in North America various organizations started initiatives such as Smart Factory, Connected Enterprise, Machine Clouds and so on.
At Balluff it took us almost a year to really break down the vague concept of IIoT and to define what would Industry 4.0 mean to us. We decided that it is not important what we think of Industry 4.0 rather it is important to understand what our customers expect of Industry 4.0 and we must find our path and our solution to help our customers realize their expectations of the modern factory. This definition should serve as a blue-print for our future product development and also utilize existing products to realize several concepts of the Industry 4.0.
Two major themes came to light that our customers valued the most and demand industry 4.0 framework to solve: Lot size one a.k.a. individualization of products, and, efficient production. In the current generation of automation we are focusing on small batch productions- for example, along the same production line we are dealing with multiple product variations or packaging but we produce many of the same kind. In the near future, each product while flowing through the line could be customized to individual’s taste- like the Coke bottle with your name on it. Efficient production on the other hand is broader topic. Today we deal with efficiency at the plant level or machine level- with the added complexity of product customization, we need to broaden our horizons to production levels and efficiency of the entire organization to be able to produce where it is economical without compromising on any attributes of the product.
With our sensor, measurement and identification systems, combined with networking and connectivity solutions, we found ourselves at the core or the foundation layer of Industry 4.0 framework. Sensors and identification systems is where the data is essentially generated and flows through the connectivity solutions to the higher level systems to be interpreted and acted up-on. The actions/orders then flow back through the networks down to the devices and actuators to tune up the system performance. We essentially are the enablers or the Heartbeat of Industry 4.0! This means our sensors and systems need to talk intelligently and convey information beyond the sensing property. At Balluff we chose IO-Link as the intelligent communication across the board. It does not matter what the higher level communication is at the controller all our intelligent devices communicate over IO-Link, the medium that offers process, configuration and event communication on the single line.
With IO-Link at the foundation, our framework of Industry 4.0 consists of seven functional areas to provide sharp focus for our development and existing solutions: Predictive Maintenance, Parameterization, Recipe Change Management, Quality Assurance, Condition Monitoring, Format Change Management, and Traceability. These are the core areas that would assist us in helping our customers achieve their objectives.
Over next months, I will discuss each of these seven areas in greater details in my blogs.