By MB Allen, KIC

MB Allen, Manager of Applications and Sales

Industry 4.0

Over the last few years I’ve talked to many people about Industry 4.0: the trend, the challenges, the hype, and more recently, the reality. We finally appear to be in a phase where, while there’s no silver bullet, there numerous solutions available that claim to be Industry 4.0 ready or compatible. Perhaps the recent work done on standards, or just the way technology has advanced is the reason for this, but whatever it is, it’s a welcome change and we move from theory towards reality.

We now are seeing the topic become increasingly important to EMS companies large and small, but more significantly to the OEMs or brands that are considering it when selecting their EMS partners. Some companies, particularly in high reliability markets like automotive or medical, now expect some degree of Industry 4.0 readiness from their entire supply chain and are beginning audit for connected, digital or smart factory elements. This comes up repeatedly as OEMs ask for thermal process data and traceability, often insisting that their vendors use specific solutions like the ones we provide at KIC.

Without clarity around Industry 4.0 parameters, auditing can be a challenge. We’ve spoken to some companies to ask what they’re looking for and auditing against. While the answers varied considerably, most are looking for certain criteria to be met. Based on the feedback we’ve had from OEMs in various industry sectors, here are our tips for those auditing smart factories, and for those being audited.

It Starts with Strategy
While it is difficult or probably impossible to audit a strategy, we found that most OEMs are keen to know that their vendors are on the path to Industry 4.0 and have a plan. This means showing a strategy with a real timeline as well as a clear idea of what they expect to achieve.

Much has been spoken about Industry 4.0 and how it can be achieved, however little has been said about the real benefits it offers the manufacturer, their customers, and the eventual consumer. An Industry 4.0 strategy must start with objective. The ‘why’, must lead the ‘how’ when it comes to smart factory applications. Hence, the objectives should define the plan.

An Industry 4.0 Ready Environment
If the goal of Industry 4.0 is factory-wide intelligence, then the foundation should be connectivity first and data management second. We found OEMs keen to understand if the manufacturing environment has only elements that are Industry 4.0 compatible. By “manufacturing environment,”  I don’t mean just the SMT line, but rather the entire factory including discrete manufacturing processes. The manufacturing environment also may include multiple factories in different locations.

So, what is an Industry 4.0 ready environment? It’s an environment that has infrastructure in place to connect every machine, where data is extracted, shared and used. Some auditors mentioned looking for machinery that can ‘read, record, relay and react’. These four Rs are the fundamentals of Industry 4.0 readiness ensuring that each part of the ecosystem can read the data that comes into it, record everything that happens on it, including process parameter details, relay that data to a system or another machine, and then react to incoming data.

Complete Traceability
For some considerable time now, the top priority for auditors has been traceability, and this remains the case. The change comes in the level of that traceability, its granularity, and how extensive the need for that data is. For an auditor, the best part of Industry 4.0 is the real-time nature of the data provided. If you’re auditing a process, the last thing you want hear is that the report you need will take several hours or even days to generate. The best solution is to deliver real-time data in simple dashboards or reports that can be reviewed and if data need further investigation, then drill down data should be readily available.

Traceability should cover as much detail or granularity as possible, and as much of the supply chain as possible. In the case of the thermal process, that data is often required to be granular enough to trace a profile to single board, rather than a batch. It also should also be contextual, with the addition of a time stamp, the machine used, operator information, recipe information, adherence to established process window and much more.

Good Data Drive Good Decisions
In any audit process the veracity of data is essential. The adage garbage-in-garbage-out has never been truer than in a digital factory environment. If decisions are made using poor quality data, the outcome will likely be wholly inaccurate. Good process control relies on good process data, and with so much data flowing into an ecosystem, bad data risks contaminating good data.

At every process, good data comes from vendors who can combine their ability to connect to the digital ecosystem with domain expertise to get the right data quickly and accurately. In our case, the thermal properties of the oven, but for a solder paste inspection system or X-ray machine that might be getting the right image.

Smart Connected Team
Industry 4.0 is about more than connecting machines, it’s about connecting teams of committed people working with common goals. The companies that have enjoyed the most success in deploying Industry 4.0 are those that have built the right internal teams and external collaborations.

There are very few companies that claim to offer a one stop solution for Industry 4.0, and I suspect that those that do are unable to supply everything. For that reason, collaboration is essential, starting internally. At it’s heart Industry 4.0 is cooperation between IT and Operations and if both departments are not involved at the start silos can form and connectivity will break down. Establishing diverse multidiscipline internal teams is the start, before bringing in external experts to create the right connected digital ecosystem.

Software Ecosystem
To turn data to actionable intelligence requires some form of management software and one of the first thing we find auditors looking for is a connected software ecosystem where all the sub-systems work in harmony. Software is needed at a granular machine level, across the factory floor, in production planning, across larger multisite ecosystems and at an enterprise level.

Getting the MES, ERP, PLM and whatever other software is present working in concert will help deliver a seamless connected solution. Having to move data manually from one system to another presents opportunity for errors to occur and that will concern any customer.

Pilot Project Can be Proof of Concept
OEMs visiting EMS sites have told us that they have been impressed by companies that have carried out pilot projects or proof-of-concept activities to learn about the deployment of Industry 4.0 in a manageable manner. Where they have seen specific results, albeit in a small part of the process, they have recognized that these companies are ready to deploy Industry 4.0 on a larger scale.

Defining the return on investment (ROI) of these pilot projects, creating a team to carry them out with Key performance indicators (KPIs), and being able to report on them shows both intent and ability.

Industry 4.0 Must Deliver
At the end of the day every investment must deliver and this one is no different. If it delivers internally management will want to continue and do more. If it delivers externally, customers will be satisfied and will want to do more business with you. Never undertake such a project without knowing precisely why you’re are doing it.

It may be because it delivers efficiency and allows your business to increase margins, something hard to do in the EMS world. It may be that an Industry 4.0 strategy will open opportunities with new accounts in new sectors, or new industries. It may be to lower the risk of product failures in the field due to poor production quality. Or it may be as simple as keeping your existing accounts happy and maintaining or growing the business you do with them.

Whatever the reason for implementing Industry 4.0, It seems clear that it will form a larger part of customer audits in future. Being ready for the questions, rather than being blindsided, will help make the next audit a simpler more pleasant process.

Reprinted with permission from the Aug/Sept 2018 issue of i4.0 today magazine.