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IoT standardization step toward successful future

Issue: February 2018

There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to create standards for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, which we cover in this month’s issue. The alphabet soup of acronyms can be overwhelming. But industry officials believe a standardized, global communications protocol is at least part of the answer in ensuring the United States’ manufacturing future.

Angie DeRosa

Global standardization is a big step, a longer- term goal in implementing what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Currently, there is a potpourri of interfaces for machinery and equipment, which means many of them are not able to communicate because they do not speak the same language. What is needed is a common language through which all machinery and equipment can communicate, no matter where they are made. The effort for standardization will be years in the making.

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) has formed a subcommittee to do a deep dive into the technical aspects of Industry 4.0 and the IoT. Such leadership is necessary and commendable.

At a basic level, Industry 4.0 and the IoT are allowing for remote access to machinery and equipment. If a machinery maker is headquartered in Tampa, there is no need to send a technician to a client in St. Louis, because the technician can remotely access and troubleshoot from Tampa.

Industry 4.0 and the IoT also offer predictive maintenance, making “run to failure” an obsolete way to operate equipment. If you know in advance that a piece of equipment or machinery is going to fail, you can do something about it. The ultimate smart factory would replace rigid manufacturing systems with adaptable, self-driven counterparts. This would be applied from the resin silos to warehouse inventory, right into clients’ operations where order fulfillment is automatic. Machinery maintenance also would be driven by automatic systems. All the equipment and machinery would communicate.

Still, tethering machinery and equipment to the Internet can be a scary prospect. Where can the data go and what are the possible security breaches? Governing bodies and nonprofit groups are attempting to establish regulations for security. It is a no-brainer that cybersecurity has to be improved and assured as much as possible.

But consider some other factors, such as the need for productivity gains when a company cannot necessarily hire more people. Everyone in the plastics industry knows the challenge of finding skilled workers. The IoT improves productivity without increasing the workforce.

In an executive summary for the 2017 report on the Evolution of Automation from the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, an industry consultant said that “one day the machines on the plant floor will talk to each other, take corrective action to maintain maximum uptime, schedule repairs, and order inventory — automatically and autonomously.” Factors driving the adoption of automation include lack of skilled labor; increased global demand for manufactured products; the need to make products with consistent quality; the need to reduce overall operating costs; and new technologies such as smart machines and cobots.

If you work for a processor, are you working on Industry 4.0 and IoT initiatives within your company? Have you put a team in place to evaluate how your company can take advantage of the trend? You might want to consider a connected factory, no matter how small your operation is.

Big contracts for work are in the offing for manufacturers poised to compete. Although you can’t predict the future, you can be assured that more projects are coming along, and you want to keep your company in a position to take advantage of any opportunity.

One big ongoing project is the Foxconn factory that will go into Mount Pleasant, Wis. Foxconn has been very open about the fact that the Internet of Things is part of its strategy. This is the company that is famous for assembling Apple iPhones. The $10 billion project for the assembly of LCD screens is expected to create up to 13,000 jobs and should be in operation by 2020. PLASTICS highlighted the project in its 2017 Size & Impact report because other countries are starting to feel the pressure — like they did during the Reagan administration — to build production capacity in the U.S. or lose some access to the U.S. market.

The IoT and Industry 4.0 are well under way but also have a long way to go, and that is what industry leaders understand. If you are attending NPE2018, you will see more of this trend as companies try to get their piece of the market. We would like to know what you think and what your company is doing. Let us know by emailing us at editorial@plasticsmachinerymagazine.com.

Angie DeRosa, managing editor