Rise of the Machines: Connecting the Factory Floor for Improved Performance and Realisation of Industry 4.0

Engineering Magazine November 2019

Cyril Gallou looks at why a fully connected factory floor is the way forward for any manufacturer seeking to fully realise the Industry 4.0 vision Underscoring its progressive stance, aerospace supplier, JPB Système, was one of the first company’s in France to establish and run an Industry 4.0 production process. More recently, the company diversified its technology proposition to offer a disruptive solution that tracks the performance of manufacturing equipment to improve all-round production efficiency.

The aerospace manufacturing industry has experienced massive changes in recent years. While today’s market is more global than ever, aerospace manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented pressure, with the demand for aircraft units ramping up and the margins to invest in new technologies declining due to high international competition. On the top of this, an ever-present challenge for manufacturers is to boost efficiencies and reduce the costs of their production processes. This directly affects both the flexibility and the price ranges of the supply chain as manufacturers have access to providers from across the globe.

This is certainly the case from our own perspective and, since its creation over a quarter of a century ago, our company has seen a great deal of change – especially when it comes to our customers’ expectations. Not only are our customers focused on product quality, but they also demand fast delivery times, and supply chain flexibility. Naturally, they are seeking innovative, ground-breaking solutions that can be developed and certified quickly in order to help them operate at a global level.

As any business guru will likely attest, rarely do companies enjoy long term profitable growth without having first undertaken some strategic planning for the future. This is certainly the case with our own business and is why we recently decided to completely revolutionise our production operations and set ourselves on the path to the industry of the future and Industry 4.0

Like any business, especially a French company competing within the global arena, we want to be as efficient as possible. In order to ensure this, we realised that we needed to be able to identify areas of inefficiency and apply the appropriate corrective action where necessary.

Integrated innovation

This saw us recently take the decision to create a more automated and connected manufacturing plant. Human resources will always be central to our production, but we have worked hard to set up a smartly-connected facility, incorporating automated production processes and robots, enabling realtime data collection, as well as remote monitoring from different smart devices.

Centering around an innovative manufacturing execution system (MES), this enables us to connect, track and measure the effectiveness of all elements of the manufacturing process. Using an advanced IOT that relies on AI and machine learning, we’re able to monitor the performance of our software, machinery and associated applications.

As part of this, we have created a cutting-edge wireless sensor device that affixes to manufacturing machinery to detect vibrations and sounds. By doing so it provides an immediate status on the machines’ performance and delivers vital information from the production floor. Importantly, unlike similar solutions on the market, ours is non-invasive in that it doesn’t require connection of physical cables or wiring to machines in order to obtain production data. This obtrusion is a necessity with alternative solutions that also require a specialist engineer to stop machines for several hours in order to acquire the necessary data. Needless to say, this immediately impacts manufacturing uptime and threatens throughput which can quickly rack up costs.

A true picture of factory floor performance

I believe that, whether you are a company manufacturing within the aerospace sector, or a completely unrelated vertical, the ability to connect, monitor and gauge the performance of the entire factory floor offers an invaluable advantage when it comes to knowing how your operations are actually performing. Indeed, from our own standpoint, the ability to see this complete picture has given us a true indication as to what’s going on and has enabled us to improve data analysis like OEE, and automate cycles counts and better determine the root causes of any losses in machine performance.

Personally, I think that for any manufacturing company seeking to empower itself and properly embrace both intelligent manufacturing and the wider Industry 4.0 revolution, such systems will be indispensable. In fact, underscoring this point, a recent study* showed that manufacturing plants can witness up to a 15% drop in unplanned downtime when equipment data is captured and analysed.

To some extent, we will see this take place naturally. Again, from our own perspective, the current generation of younger engineers and potential employees we are seeing are already well accustomed to those technologies like robotics, AI and 3D printing that underpin the Industry 4.0 concept. To them, it’s already becoming the norm, or to put it another way, the future is already here.