Prof. Dr.-Ing. Holger Kohl

Industry 4.0 – Status, Implementation, Outlook
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Holger Kohl, Director Corporate Management, Fraunhofer IPK, Germany

Off the peg« was yesterday. Today, many enterprises execute custom processes for every client or even every single order – often with annual repetition rates of 1.3. Letting buyers choose the color or styles of custom trainers or designing custom car interiors are no major problem. System suppliers regularly face completely different challenges: Their clients order components made from materials they have never used before or require certifications that their standard production processes were not designed to accommodate. Such special requests are a tough test for the economic viability of production processes. The problem is simple: They take time. Mass production is designed to function like a Swiss clockwork: An order is received, and everybody knows what needs to be done. From initial logistics down to the final touch, every process step is intricately linked with the next to keep the entire process running smoothly. This is far from straightforward with custom orders, which require much more coordination. A change in the raw materials needs careful checks whether the available machines can process the material, where the material can be procured, and how to proceed in general when it is not predetermined who does what at which point. This makes custom products much more expensive than mass production. The many advantages of customized products let clients accept greater costs to some extent – but truly flexible manufacturing can only become economically sustainable, if it is faster and cheaper than before. Throughput speeds and production costs need to hold their own with more established mass production. Is that possible?
Industrie 4.0 or digitally integrated production (dip) offers thousands of promising solutions for the challenge »Speed up, costs down«. The spectrum of options reaches from pinpoint interventions in existing systems to sweeping restructuring of entire process chains. Already at Hannover Fair 2017 and 2018 Fraunhofer IPK showed how this could work in practice. Production of plastic components can be quick and economical, even if key production parameters are changed, thanks to integrated modular product, production, and IT architectures, smart data, and cloud-based control systems. Novel technologies keep the entire process speedy and responsive: Modular Shopfloor IT combines manufacturing facilities flexibly in ever-new process chains, ready to handle customized orders. This becomes even more responsive when the machine controls are moved into the cloud: All software is brought together in one place, for easier maintenance and the speedy integration of changes.

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