Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution. It is not simply about networking production lines in the context of a smart factory, it also involves the development and deployment of connected machines as part of end-product solutions on customer sites. These machines are constantly sharing information, so that they can continue to be monitored after delivery, providing the basis for value-added services and other new business models.
Uses for connected machines
Connected machines are both a result and driver of digitalisation in production and manufacturing. They are an essential component of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). They collect, collate, store, filter and transmit data, adding transparency and creating a foundation for informed decision-making and response. Some areas of use include:
A connected machine that continues to “call home” to the manufacturer after delivery to the customer allows critical information to be identified and reported at an early stage. If the data indicates that a part may be due to fail due to wear and tear, the relevant part can be changed in time without allowing major damage to occur.
Supply Chain Management
When connected machines are linked up to an ERP system such as SAP, they make a significant contribution to improving efficiency in the supply chain. For example, a connected production system can identify material shortages and reorder what it needs directly and autonomously.
Industry 4.0 does not simply mean networking individual production processes to each other. A smart factory also needs a warehouse in which stock-taking, stock movements and timely procurement can be carried out transparently and efficiently, possibly even automatically.
What connected machines need to communicate
Digitalisation of production will only work if the right technologies are used. Here are the most important components:
These devices are a prerequisite for converting analogue information such as temperature and pressure into data that can be evaluated by digital systems.
Systems attached to the factory connect the smart machines to the rest of the IT infrastructure and are therefore vital for low-latency networked communications.
Edge computing aggregates, bundles and filters the data that is collected, so that traffic is routed efficiently to the cloud.
Whatever the requirements of production, such as condition monitoring, asset management, spare part management or energy monitoring, there is a suitable app to support the need.
The platform is where all of the relevant data converges, creating the umbrella for all of the apps used in production.
To generate true value-added, connected machines need to link in directly to compatible systems such as existing SAP landscapes.
Benefits of connected machines
Smart machines as a product of an Industry 4.0 networked production system offer operators many advantages. These relate both to traditional production processes and new business models:
Connected machines document and collect relevant production data. They therefore shed light on inefficient processes and supply the information required to develop appropriate improvements for more efficient scheduling and implementation.
The collection, collation and evaluation of data in a networked production system provides a transparent overview of all production processes. Then it is a case of fine-tuning the right parts of the system to improve product quality, minimise scrappage rates and reduce production costs.
Transparency and traceability
Even after delivery of the product it is possible to trace precisely which parts have been produced when, and where they have been installed. This supports auditing and the handling of guarantee claims in the event that issues arise in the field.
New business models
With the advent of Industry 4.0, customers often prefer to rent services rather than purchase equipment and machinery. Manufacturers that deploy connected machines at customer sites can take advantage of networks to offer value-added services and create new business models that distinguish them from their competitors.
Challenges of connected machines
Alongside the benefits there are also a few challenges that companies need to consider when planning the deployment of connected machines. Ideally they do this in partnership with an expert in digitalisation.
Connected machines communicate with other machines, gateways, cloud apps and many other devices within the network as a whole. Many individual protocols and systems need to be integrated and properly connected to ensure that all of the processes in production can be optimised.
Consistent planning and networking
From local machine networks to upgrading the shop floor with edge devices and ultimately using the data collected through cloud applications – if networked production is to bear fruit, companies need to consult with a reliable partner that can support the entire project from design through development and implementation to continuing operations management.
Suitable IIoT applications
Every industry and every product have their own specific requirements. The software solutions needed to visualise raw data and transform it into useful decision-making information must be just as tailored to these needs. Our customers use an adapted IIoT Portal with bespoke apps to get the most value from their data.
Connected machines in practice
The uses of connected machines are as different as they are numerous. Here are two examples of projects where we have supported our customers:
New services for new revenue streams
A manufacturer of electric motors developed products with in-built connectivity to expand its service portfolio. Even after they have been delivered to the end customer, the devices are in permanent contact with the base and transmit data in real time. This allows end customers to optimise run times with predictive maintenance.
Continual product improvement
In this case, our customer uses the regular feedback provided from its connected machines in combination with a digital twin created using the SAP Asset Intelligence Network to gain a better understanding of its processes and weaknesses from the data collected. When is the system overloaded? How do individual components react in certain conditions? The responses to these questions help achieve permanent improvements in product quality.
Syntax – your partner for planning and implementation of connected production systems
Connected machines and technologies such as edge computing are just the first steps for companies that want to take full advantage of Industry 4.0 in their production systems, ultimately creating a digital factory. Syntax represents many years of experience in manufacturing and production, and understands the needs of industry. From design to development, implementation and ongoing operations, we are a one-stop-shop for planning and realisation of bespoke concepts in collaboration with our customers. As an SAP partner from the very beginning we are also experts in integration of your state-of-the-art, connected production processes with existing ERP systems to create more efficient, data-driven resource planning. And with the configurable Syntax IIoT Portal our customers can take advantage of technologies including AI and machine learning to extract the full potential from their data. The breakthrough: Our templates, 80% of which consist of standard solutions, allow us to develop custom solutions that can be quickly implemented and still ensure that all of the customers specific requirements and individual needs are taken into account.
FAQ: Connected machines
How does machine-to-machine (M2M) communications work?
In contrast to M2H communications, where the machine interacts with a human user, M2M communications uses the automated exchange of data between different devices such as production machinery, mobile devices or vehicles. The communications rely on the availability of compatible protocols and form the basis for a range of services including remote servicing, monitoring and predictive maintenance. The three core components are data end points (connected machines, for example), a communications network (either cabled or wireless) and a data integration hub that collects and monitors all of the data.