The fourth industrial revolution is in full swing. But what effects does it have on companies and what exactly does Industry 4.0 actually mean? We talk about this with Bernhard Müller, our Industry 4.0 Manager.
Mr. Müller, how would you explain to an amateur what Industry 4.0 means?
First of all it is important that Industry 4.0 is really only about industry. Everything revolves around the question of how I can use data or information to improve industrial processes, make them more flexible and increase efficiency. Industry 4.0 must be very clearly differentiated from the Internet of Things, which has a much broader scope. The Internet of Things involves the internet at home, in the car, or in the health sector, for example.
How is SICK reacting to the change caused by Industry 4.0?
As long ago as 2004, SICK aligned its corporate claim ‘Sensor Intelligence.’ to the initial changes detectable in the world of automation. Since then, our claim has formulated our focus on technical intelligence well beyond pure sensor technology. The ability to produce and deliver goods more efficiently, more flexibly, more sustainably, and with greater quality thanks to the availability of abundant data largely depends on the reliability and robustness of the data that form the input for process chains. Complex systems can only make autonomous decisions with good data material, and no transparent evaluation of the data is possible without sensors.
Has SICK adapted its range of products and production processes to Industry 4.0?
We ask ourselves what effect Industry 4.0 has on the sensors, and which functionalities are essential for sensors that are to be used in an Industry 4.0 environment. We focus on communication interfaces: We are expanding the communication capability of our sensors to the needs of Industry 4.0 (e.g. with IO-Link and OPC UA). The cloud, the Internet of Things, big data, etc.
How does one know which data within the flood of data are actually relevant?
I think that machines will have to generate increasing amounts of intelligent data in future. The mere existence of a large cloud of data, however, is not at all helpful if nobody knows how to use it. Data must be prepared in such a way that the user can exploit it. If all sensors contributed to the data world there would be a never-ending flow of traffic. This is why we say that some sensors must be queried once a week and others every microsecond. The possibilities created by using this data from the value-creation chain will change business in general.
Aren’t companies overburdened if, in addition to their daily business, they also have to cope with these things?
The large flood of data makes it important to analyze and prepare it properly. Daily business is supported by this analysis – so the producer ultimately requires less time keeping an eye on production and order backlogs.
What weight should a company give these developments? How can companies keep up with events?
The possibilities opened up by these developments will determine the future competitiveness of a company. So it is vital to closely observe the potentials created for specific companies. The best way is to exploit the possible technologies in small steps.