It‘s only a matter of culture
As “plant outfitter of the world”, Germany is one of the most competitive industrial locations worldwide. To secure the future of the production location, and thus competitiveness, prosperity, and employment, tool and mold making is facing a decisive change. In addition to mechanization, electrification, and computerization, the “Internet of Things and Services” now marks the beginning of the “Industry 4.0” era. In the fourth industrial revolution, machines, conveying and storage systems, robots, and operating equipment are now networked. They exchange information, organize and control themselves independently based on the situation. Humans, machines, and systems are now connected permanently and communicate in real time. This fundamentally changes sequences and working methods in production and the entire company.
Products and processes
Products can be clearly identified and localized at all times. They feature their complete history, the current state, and the sequences towards the target state. The complete value creation chain in the company, as well as at the interfaces to customers, partners, and suppliers are interlinked. Mobile communication, intelligent objects and sensor systems enable future ad-hoc, decentral response in real time to events. Thus, sequences in the company are transparent and highly flexible. This is one prerequisite for economic and competitive production of individual customer requirements.
Production with batch size of 1
Industry 4.0 stands for many different aspects. One partial aspect is the manufacturing of a batch size of 1. Similar to the automotive industry, tool and mold making already produces today with the smallest batch size, as every tool and/or mold is unique.
Many fundamental ideas of “Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM)” from the last 1980s are reality today. The use of CAx technologies must not be discussed anymore – they have been established for many years and have been linked with manufacturing. Fortunately, one prediction has not materialized. The nightmare of factories without people has not become reality and will not come true in the foreseeable future.
In the last years, many tool and mold makers have invested into automation with varying characteristics. Investments ranged from the automation of individual machine tools to the automation of the complete value chain with connection of milling, eroding, and measuring machines, as well as loading stations and magazines.
Digital value chain
Applications, such as CAD/CAM and ERP/PPS, are integrated today and production is already organized in a very digital and paper-free manner. However, production control in real time is practically not yet possible at the time being. Although the value chain is already highly interlinked, manual interventions are still required at many points. The challenge here is the data flow along the entire value creation. Data must be available at any time, location, device, and in the respective context.
Using chances actively
With the introduction of Industry 4.0, various new technologies, such as BigData, collaborative robots, and 3D printing, enter production as well. They offer tool and mold makers many chances and new business opportunities. However, technologies will also change the way current production processes are managed substantially. For this reason, a thorough analysis of these technologies with all chances as well as risks is of high importance.
Industry 4.0 is not a feature that can be switched on with the push of a button. It is rather the sequence of many small, evolutionary steps. Looking back in ten to twenty years from now, the revolutionary character of the change will become obvious.
Many tool and mold makers have already invested today in a central production control system and automation robots. Other companies have not completed this step and must catch up. However, awareness must also be established that Industry 4.0 does not only refer to production. The digital transformation concerns processes and IT systems in the entire company. For this reason, the strategic responsibility of executive management is to define the correct future strategy and derive respective measures from it.
Productivity and competitiveness
Industry 4.0 offers tool and mold makers great opportunities to further automate processes and respond even more flexibly to individual customer requirements.
With the implementation of Industry 4.0, productivity will be improved sustainably and profitability increased noticeably. The industry association BITKOM refers to possible productivity increases of up to 30 %. Such numbers do not seem to be unrealistic in light of often long waiting and idle times in the overall process, the potential of a consistent, digital value chain, and further automation.
New thinking required
As with all previous revolutions, there will be reservations. The concern that no people will be required anymore has always existed and was always proven wrong.
One thing is sure, employees will be relieved from partly monotonous, physically demanding routine activities and used for creative and value-creating activities, where they can contribute their full thinking and associative skills to the company. It is also sure that new working methods require new thinking – of employees and management. It is rarely a question of technology, but of culture. The implementation of the fourth industrial revolution is the prerequisite for remaining competitive. Thus, the question is not whether a company will follow this new path, but rather when and how.
Recognize and use the potentials
tool and mold making has to offer.