Industry 4.0 Was Big at EMO 2015

At Europe’s largest machine tool show, many exhibitors were eager to show how their products will help customers join the fourth Industrial Revolution.

One of my firm conclusions after attending EMO in Milan, Italy, in October, was that the so-called fourth Industrial Revolution is already underway. The ability to connect machine tools and production equipment to a Web-enabled network so that manufacturing is truly driven by data is the essence of this latest industrial revolution. Niles Simmons, a manufacturer of large lathes, depicted these four revolutions with large display panels, showing how mechanization (driven by steam engines), mass production (driven by electricity and the assembly line) and automation (driven by computer processing) represent the first three revolutions. The last panel described “end-to-end digital networking” as the main characteristic of this latest revolution.

The term Industry 4.0 was widely used at EMO to designate this trend to total shopfloor connectivity. Strictly speaking, however, Industry 4.0 is a reference to the initiative launched in Germany to establish a coherent infrastructure that facilitates factory digitalization. It is a coalition of universities, companies, labor unions and government bodies. This effort is intended to make this country a global leader in digital manufacturing.

The industry support for Industry 4.0 was apparent at the booth of Siemens, an early backer of the initiative. Siemens is incorporating features in its CNCs to help machine tool builders and end users integrate machine tools seamlessly into the digital process chain.

Likewise, machine builder DMG MORI was emphasizing how data connectivity is the key to implementing Industry 4.0. Data flowing from the machine tool must reach decision-makers on all levels to increase efficiency and yield higher profits for manufacturers. Enhancing machine data by adding sensors to critical machine components was the point of one machine on display. See the full report starting on page 82 in this issue.

In addition to machine data, WFL Millturn Technologies emphasized how the machine tool is a hub for process and tool data as well. WFL manufactures large turn-mill machines, the latest models of which incorporate this hub concept.

Machining system builder Grob was showing Grob-Net4Industry, a suite of Web-enabled software modules intended to create “global transparency throughout the production process.” The idea here is that decision-makers must be able to “see into” every aspect of factory operation. We will see more machine builders become software developers as Industry 4.0 takes hold.

Another case in point is Okuma, who is a builder of both machines and controls. This builder’s latest CNC is OSP Suite, aptly named because this machine control system becomes an open-architecture platform for the company’s Intelligent Technology software capabilities. For example, OSP Monitor is an application by which a digital model of the shop floor enables managers to view the status icons for all connected machine tools.

The message of EMO is that data-driven manufacturing has moved beyond the concept stage. Machines and software ready for Industry 4.0 are here.