The Future of Automation and Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 and the rapid rise of automation is spearheading the ever-changing landscape of manufacturing processes. Manufacturers are presented with the challenge of upgrading and digitising their systems as a means of installing longevity in their businesses. Failure to do so risks them falling behind their customer’s growing demands.

Digitisation, automation and data collection are the key principles of Industry 4.0 that manufacturers must align themselves with. By doing so, manufacturers can improve efficiencies while streamlining costs and maintaining a quality customer experience. As a leading supplier and manufacturer of essential component solutions, Essentra Components are one of many manufacturers just starting out on their Industry 4.0 journey.

Smart planning

For Essentra Components, the main business areas that are incorporating automation can be split into three separate areas; smart planning, smart machines and smart data. For smart planning, the company is using cutting edge demand planning software to determine lot-sizes and replenishment points in its ERP system. This process then releases demand into a sophisticated scheduling tool, which has the capacity to organise work most efficiently according to a wide range of criteria, such as avoiding material or colour changes. This automated process connects to the company’s main production monitoring system. Even simple robotics such as sprue pickers and in-line reprocessing have helped improve moulding capture and waste recovery. Automating these processes has already helped to reduce the company’s monthly raw material waste by approximately 75%. 

Smart machines

Over the last three years, the company has also upgraded approximately 25% of its machines across the UK shop floor to take advantage of new technologies. In doing so, employees now have the capability to link the machines to the cloud system, enabling individuals to directly download the approved processing parameters to the machines which ultimately speeds up the whole process. Essentra have also incorporated a remote access capability on the machines to enable external machine engineers to diagnose faults reducing potential downtime periods. Essentra Components are currently developing a process where technicians can have access to troubleshoot processing issues remotely and make modifications to the process via their smart phone. Another benefit of the rise of smart machines is that 70% of materials the company uses are also now directly fed to the machines which reduces manual handling, waste and machine downtime.

Smart data

Smart data is another key area of automation for manufacturers. Essentra Component’s production monitoring software now has a direct link to our range of 20 Sumitomo Demag machines. This process captures real time overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) information which not only helps the systems maintain the required performance levels, but also offers invaluable data around where there is room for improvement. For example, sheet setting parameters are stored electronically, meaning that they can be automatically downloaded into the machines to reduce set-up times. The rise of automation and the smart data obtained from the production monitoring system has helped directly with the tooling development programme, which has delivered massive efficiency gains. As a result, Essentra Components have more than halved the number of machines on the shop floor, whilst doubling output in the past 20 years.

Successfully navigating the transition into Industry 4.0 will take a long time. Creating smart factories and revolutionising an entire manufacturing process can initially seem like a complicated and endless task, but manufacturers will be able to reap the benefits for many years to come. Automation and Industry 4.0 is completely redefining outdated manufacturing processes and will help support continued growth of businesses. It’s a particularly exciting time for the manufacturing industry and manufacturers must respond to these technological developments and ensure they are meeting the ever-changing demands of the marketplace.

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