So far, the world has seen four industrial revolutions: The first industrial revolution was attributed to the first steam engine built by James Watt in 1769.
The second was brought about following the introduction of Henry Ford’s conveyor belt powered mass production in 1913.
The next revolution was the introduction of IT and automation technology.
Today, a new method of production, in which IT is playing a bigger role in the production process than ever before, is turning the industrial world on its head. So much so in fact, that people are already talking about a fourth industrial revolution: They call it Industry 4.0.
In Industry 4.0, “cyber-physical” production systems combine classic production techniques with IT. Machine and product communicate with each other. Thanks to embedded systems, products in the machine’s production process can themselves determine how they should be processed.
Sensors indicate to the “smart product” the current stage of the production process, or which areas need to be improved. Processes govern themselves in a decentralized system. Increased flexibility and productivity is the goal of Industry 4.0.
In the future, tailored components will be able to be produced faster and more cost-effectively in small batch numbers – with automatic, simultaneous replenishment of individual parts, and complete transparency of the company’s order process. In such an industrialized nation as Germany, the issue has got the sector talking, and research into the area is being supported by the federal government.
Research into Industry 4.0
Together with partners from industry and research, SAP Research (the global research organization of SAP) is actively looking into this new type of production.
It is working with companies and organizations such as Siemens and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence on Project RES-COM, which looks at how resources can be saved with machine-to-machine communication, and which is sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, amongst others.
As part of the project, researchers are looking into the IT platforms of the future that enable a cross-company network of machines, systems, and humans.
Asset Information Management (AIM) is another area that SAP Research is working on. This will allow simpler access to information by compiling data from different sources across the company.
If a service incident occurs on a line, the specialist can form an overview of the problem quickly and easily: Who is operating the line? Which SAP systems and databases are being used? Which production orders are still pending?
Previously, this data had to be retrieved individually by operators, manufacturers, and other individuals. SAP is using the cloud for AIM because it simplifies data integration.
AIM is a vision born out of a collaboration with Endress+Hauser, providers of measuring equipment, services, and solutions for industrial process engineering. Customers of Endress+Hauser are manufacturers and operators of industrial systems such as chemical or even beer filling systems.
These systems are made up of thousands of components such as sensors that measure fill levels, throughput volumes, or pH values. If one of these intelligent components issues a maintenance request or reports a fault, often the information needed to troubleshoot is located in different IT systems for different departments.
With the AIM, this information can be retrieved in fractions of a second and clearly displayed to the maintenance engineer – regardless of the database on which the information is stored. This saves time, costs, and increases line availability.
En Route to a New Standard
Following an announcement by the federal government at the start of the year, 37 projects applied for funding in the area of Industry 4.0. Three were selected – and SAP is involved in two of them.
In the first project, SAP, working with top university RWTH Aachen, wants to make it possible to interpret large data volumes at the production level using the SAP HANA platform in order to optimize live production processes.
The project aims to set production on the right course, and to save resources and, most importantly, time. The second project focuses on the management of employees’ workloads, and is being run in conjunction with the Fraunhofer IAO.
Unlike current processes, where requests for employee availability for extra shifts still tend to be issued in writing during lunch breaks, in the future this will be possible via smartphone. The employee can then decide, for example, whether or not he wants to work four hours extra on a Saturday night.
At the same time, the company can also check whether that employee is actually permitted to work those overtime hours. Similar in structure to a social network, this process should simplify the complicated coordination process, and the data can be entered into systems such as SAP ERP and accessed quickly and easily. Employees can establish and close working time accounts, and the company benefits from more flexible production.
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