While Industry 4.0 introduces new challenges, they’re far outweighed by the impactful results experienced through change. Innovative companies building the factories of tomorrow not only see improvements in employee productivity and ROI, they recognise that technology is a catalyst for growth.
To modernise manufacturing and drive growth, industries of all sizes must overcome resource challenges and embolden competitive advantages through improved materials management and advanced manufacturing processes. Processes and machines must improve. Industries must safeguard new platforms with cybersecurity into to the products they install. Employers must educate workers through progressive digital training initiatives. In today's connected world, data is the key to reaching these milestones.
Optimising uptime and productivity and reducing maintenance costs define Factory-of-the-Future performance. Collecting, storing, visualising and analysing data creates transparency on power usage, output and availability. That’s how industries use manufacturing data to predict maintenance, reduce costs and automate the processes that improve performance. As manufacturers envision the future, extracting the right information from data is key to improving operations and creating long-term value. Connectivity drives Factory-of-the-Future capabilities which involve the connections to machines, sensors, smart products, partner applications and other sources of data. A digitally connected ecosystem allows the aggregation and utilisation of data in ways never before achievable. And it is this ecosystem that drives Industry 4.0 innovation.
Industry 4.0-inspired digitalisation redefines how products are planned, built, used and maintained. The sooner factories digitalise operations, the faster they may realise ROI; manufacturers making Industry 4.0 investments earned 20.4 % more revenues than non-digital competitors over a four-year span.1
Driving sustainability through better materials management
Additive manufacturing and light-weighting technologies help OEMs proactively impact the environment for the better, creating new opportunities to combine novel materials, designs and process innovations faster than traditional manufacturing. Additive manufacturing allows engineers to quickly and cost-effectively create new design iterations – even creating a new ‘manufacture-to-design’ paradigm. Rather than conventional manufacturing methods based on subtractive manufacturing or forming, new additive technologies include 3D-printing for both metal and non-metal applications. These technologies enable OEMs to meet increased demand for complex components and fixtures while improving speed to market and advancing sustainable manufacturing practices.
We’re exploring cutting-edge solutions in polymer materials, composites and structures to improve efficiency, durability and the recyclability of products. With a dramatic increase of connected devices and sensors and the data and insights they create, we efficiently use and conserve resources, provide reliable access to energy and enable safer living and working environments.
Our additive manufacturing process can decrease waste and scrap by using only the material required for final products. Our teams actively reduce our own waste and carbon dioxide emissions as they optimise our use of power, raw materials and natural resources. As each 3D layer is added, we evaluate and ensure quality with real-time data analysis. If we detect substandard quality at any point, we can change inputs or slow down printing to assure a better product while decreasing waste and materials costs, all thanks to the continuous flow of data.
We inspire cutting-edge thinking by ensuring our engineers have direct access to new technologies and the autonomy to experiment without limitation. Through extensive studies, we’re increasing our understanding of additive manufacturing’s environmental impact. Our Eaton Centres of Excellence in Southfield, Michigan (USA), and Pune, India, meet the increased demand for complex high-performance components, tools and fixtures – all while improving speed to market and advancing sustainable manufacturing, furthering our ability to meet our 2030 sustainability targets.
Maximising cybersecurity from planning to implementation
With governments slow to regulate standards for adequate cybersecurity measures, manufacturers must identify and eliminate risk. That’s why many OEMs now work with suppliers who can prove their products meet or exceed the guidelines outlined by the OEM.
At Eaton, cybersecurity starts with product development procedures that assure our connected IoT products are “secure by design” and feature built-in logic. Our Secure Development Lifecycle ensures security is integrated at every phase of product creation and places strict protocols on our people, processes and technologies. From concept to installation to ongoing support, our engineers build cyber-safe devices through training, threat modelling, requirements analysis and verification.
We use our expertise across new and legacy systems. While other providers build one-off solutions, only offering sensors or cloud products, Eaton offers a complete solution – from the sensor to the controller, and from the gateway to the cloud. This allows us to work with new machines and retrofit legacy systems with modern technologies, without compromising system or data security. Data utilisation and transparency are critical when improving business processes. We collect data from all machines and share it across cloud services, so customers gather more information and see easier-to-understand process parameters on one dashboard.
We employ end-to-end protocols that encompass technical standards, tools and processes to secure data that are critical to Industry 4.0 success. Our specialised labs and “secure by design” approach ensure customers install devices that comply with the highest industry cybersecurity requirements before they're made part of critical systems. Manufacturers and businesses can rest assured they’re deploying smart, safe IIoT devices and services.
Increasing productivity through education and training
The COVID-19 pandemic intensifies the need for dependable remote learning. Though businesses worldwide still balance staffing levels against spikes in virus outbreaks, workforce training cannot stop. In the new “distance economy,” a tailored learning approach to reskilling and upskilling is now critically important.
At Eaton, we see augmented reality (AR) – the use of superimposed digital simulated content over a real work environment to create a composite view of objects – as a technology that reshapes how companies train and ramp up production and how employees learn. Features like built-in video and step-by-step holographic overlay instructions create immersive training from an electronic mentor. This can dramatically compress training time frames and lessen health risks to trainers and trainees.
AR champions our use of digital twins in the development cycle. The data we generate through digital twins, the virtual replicas of physical assets, help to inform new products before they’re made part of significant capital investments.
Digital twins modelling allows us to leverage the AR tools and processes used to improve products and product design. We identify gaps in time or procedures, such as product defects and process faults, and immediately make improvements. Transforming data into actionable insights helps reduce total cost of ownership, drive efficiency and maximise uptime.
With AR training that’s more immersive and on-demand, trainees experience a 70 % higher long-term retention rate, while improving their efficiency by double-digit percentages.5
Remote assistance provides an immersive real-time collaboration space where people can interact from anywhere in the world. Our Vehicle Group uses Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist to bring together employees, customers and suppliers across the globe. The program features one user wearing the HoloLens 2, which allows for hands-free work and a point-of-view perspective for other users connected through Microsoft Teams. Other users can then interact by sharing documents, instructions or even making spatially-aware annotations in the HoloLens users’ field of view.
Program results are remarkable. By solving problems correctly the first time, AR eliminates the need to bring employees together physically, dramatically reducing travel costs, lost productivity due to travel and carbon emissions, without losing the benefits of face-to-face interaction.
Training and work instruction
Digital training is appropriate for almost any process or task. Whether it’s employee onboarding, product assembly, maintenance, safety checks or quality assurance, we incorporate 3D models and videos to get employees up and running just as quickly as in-person training.
Most recently, we’ve used AR at our load-centre facility in Ontario, Canada. The plant manufactures over 30 unique SKUs on a fast-paced multi-station line. With regular turnover on the line, experienced employees are obliged to train recruits – which takes them off the assembly line and negatively impacts productivity. Our AR program’s intuitive graphic overlays and detailed instructions reduce learning curves and break down English and French language barriers so workers can get on the job faster. With no in-person training required, we see a dramatic increase in speed to competence, higher knowledge retention rates and fewer assembly-line errors.
People are a company's most significant investment, and thanks to AR, manufacturers can quickly and safely onboard and train employees to get them on the factory floor faster, with fewer errors on the line. That translates to increased productivity and a faster return on your human capital investment.
Our Factory-of-the-Future journey is just beginning. We’ve highlighted a few starting points and continue to leverage our Industry 4.0 ecosystem of technologies to explore more possibilities, including Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), digital work instructions, predictive maintenance, traceability, cobots and automated guided vehicles.
To remain competitive, manufacturers of all sizes must immerse themselves in the Industry 4.0 revolution to leverage data to unearth insights that predict needs, generate efficiencies and inform smarter decisions. For some, the path forward may require a wholesale replacement of existing systems. Others may only need minor infrastructure and connectivity upgrades. Whatever a manufacturer’s need, now is the time to leverage a wealth of digital data, create bigger ideas, and turn those ideas into practical, real-life products that help drive long-term growth and value.
1 IDC (September 2019). The Importance of an Industrial Focus for Digital Transformation.
2 Betti, Francisco (January 2020). How manufacturing can thrive in a digital world and lead a sustainable revolution.
4 Manufacturing Automation Management Talk. Shaping Skills And Culture For The Factory Of The Future.
5 Kroc, Natalie (September 2017). Augmented Reality Comes to the Workplace.