SENSORS: On the front line of the fourth industrial revolution

Why sensors are a sensible starting point for Industry 4.0
On the front line of the fourth industrial revolution, sensors facilitate the fundamental collection of data and process monitoring which can empower clear planning decisions, build comprehensive cost justifications, validate connectivity predictions and manage many of the risks associated with change.

Industry 4.0 isn't a revolution at all, but is a vital process of evolution, Bosch Rexroth believes - and evolution takes time. We promote a slow and strategic approach to connectivity - through our own experience of evolution and implementation. It is important to appreciate that the ability to 'plug in' to a connected supply chain, which shares data and delivers lean efficiencies will, before long, become a pre-requisite to tender for potentially lucrative business.

It is widely accepted within the process industry that phase one of any digitisation strategy should be the correct installation of sensors. Fitted onto a cell, machine or tooling, these sensors are connected to software which can measure variables such as temperature, pressure, vibration and power consumption.

The collection and interpretation of data enables a better understanding of the complex dynamics at play within the current-state business before moving towards more advanced digital enhancements. For businesses experiencing connectivity for the first time, sensors provide a controlled and manageable first taste of a connected environment and an inside view into the machinery they rely on day-to-day.

Monitoring a number of process areas in the early stages of any digitisation strategy can help identify the most substantial areas of potential ROI, be that through improved output, predictive maintenance or process automation.

Once process data gathering is in place, businesses can choose to enhance the capabilities of their in-situ sensors through the integration of 'higher-level systems', which will facilitate the collation and display of data in real-time. This can lift your connectivity implementation from a simple `plug and play' function to something which is more integral to the business's overall infrastructure and processes.

Industry 4.0 underlines the need for data, but there remains a common misconception that, for many manufacturing environments, data collection would be rendered impossible by the harshness of the application or the product itself. This simply isn't the case. There are a number of sensor technology manufacturers specialising in connectivity systems which are specifically designed to collect data in dusty, dirty or wet conditions, as well as in the extremes of temperature and throughout ageing machinery stock.

Furthermore, difficult-to-see objects, such as transparent, semitransparent, uneven and highly reflective objects pose no challenge to class-leading digitised sensor systems. It is simply a case of researching a number of top-name manufacturers and identifying the one that you feel
understands your market, supply chain, facility and overall digitisation objectives.

Once sensors are in place and configured to collect the data variables required, enhancing the functionality of the sensors through `higher level systems' will allow data to be transported and displayed in real time to a central location.

This lifts sensors from being a simple 'plug and play' device to something which is more
integral to a business's overall infrastructure.

Data transportation and display is achieved through an open-software architecture, which your sensor expert of choice will be able to implement for you, as well as providing training for your staff and assistance on how to display and interpret real-time data. Combining multiple data sources into one analytical platform via an Internet of Things (IoT) gateway, or the more commonly recognised 10-Link communications system, this additional functionality is how we, in essence, give the sensors a voice. Without it, the data they collect is essentially trapped at plant level rather than being accessible at a higher, strategic vantage point.

From here, engineers can control and optimise machines and processes, cut down on wiring and cabling, plus begin to execute a highly profitable programme of predictive maintenance in order to prevent expensive emergency plant outages. Smart sensors respond to all type of control commands and can receive new settings in seconds to enable actions like rapid product changeovers. Adding additional sensors at this stage is also simple thanks to instant configuration via pre-set parameters downloaded from the central data hub.

Benefits like these, even at this early stage in a digitisation strategy, can not only deliver an impressive payback period on your sensor investment, but can begin to validate your request for further investment into connected technology.

Bosch Rexroth has first-hand experience in implementing an IoT gateway of this nature in our facility in Homburg, Germany, with improvements in product quality, productivity and energy efficiency already visible. Downtime costs, for example, have been reduced by 25%, with a return on investment achieved in less than 18 months.

Sensor technology fitted to existing machinery is the ideal way to shape a digitisation strategy for any industrial process facility. Collecting and displaying variable data in one central location for accurate interpretation can identify where investment is viable and in which order transformations should be made. Whether you want to deliver lean efficiencies upstream for your supply chain or communicate with your customers downstream to your service, sensors are a cost effective `first taste' of a connected manufacturing environment which will deliver ROI and validate future connectivity investments.

It is important to work with a leading provider to assess, install and help you to interpret the process data you gather, in order to shape your ongoing digitisation strategy.

For more information, please contact:

Bosch Rexroth

February 2019


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