Smart Machines & Factories
Active involvement
Published:  25 October, 2016

The discussion around Industry 4.0 has tended to concentrate on the collection of data and its potential to generate greater production efficiencies. However, little time has been given to how vital information can be communicated around an organisation, particularly to the factory floor. Smart Machines & Factories visited the Bosch Rexroth factory in Homburg in Germany to see first-hand how Industry 4.0 is being visualised at all levels of the organisation.

Germany is very much the home of Industry 4.0. It was originally a German government initiative that grew into a worldwide drive for greater connectivity and better use of data in the manufacturing sector.

Whilst much time has been spent talking about the potential for Industry 4.0 initiatives and the ‘how’ of data collection, less time has been spent thinking about how an organisation might disseminate and use that information.

Traditionally, the use of production data has been marooned in the plant manager’s office or in the management suite and away from those directly responsible for the workings of an individual line.

Although most factory shop floors do have office areas where staff can meet and look at data, this information is not available in real time, leaving it inevitably dated, and often highly manual, in the form of print outs and logs.

The problem therefore is, how do you get the valuable information that is being generated by Industry 4.0 techniques that the management is seeing, but not necessarily acting on, down to shop floor level in real time?

At the Homburg plant in the Saarland of Southern Germany, Bosch Rexroth thinks it has the answer. The plant manufactures six different types of hydraulic valves for yellow goods vehicles with 250 variants and 2000 single parts being used in the process. The process is therefore highly manual, which was the cause of a number of problems.

“We identified three areas where we need to deliver significant improvement, namely quality of the product, cost and delivery times,” explained Dr Matthias Möller, director of the technology and process planning department at Bosch Rexroth’s Homburg plant. He continued: “The key point is that we wanted to develop a zero failure strategy because the market for hydraulic valves is very demanding in terms of quality.”

For some time now, Bosch Rexroth the company has been employing a dual strategy, which sees the company develop Industry 4.0 technologies in its own factories, before rolling out proven solutions to industry.

The solution at Homburg was to use Industry 4.0 philosophies of connectivity, open standards and the virtual representation of information while keeping people, namely the assembly line employees, at the heart of the process.

Specifically, the valve production line at Homburg was re-engineered into autonomous workstations with RFID chips controlling the product as it flows through the line, and sensors collecting and collating data which is used to frame the decision-making process.

The brain of the Homburg line is another Bosch Rexroth idea, namely ActiveCockpit, an interactive manufacturing system that collects, filters and visualises manufacturing data continuously, giving employees and management real data to facilitate fast decision-making.

ActiveCockpit provides a digital connection between operator, product, workstation and process, collecting filtering and visualising data to a whiteboard that is, crucially, located close to production process. The whiteboard displays key production data live, in both stationary and mobile forms, seamlessly integrating the virtual world of order planning and production control, with connectivity to the MES and ERP systems.

Using ActiveCockpit, key data coming off the Homburg valve production line becomes ‘alive’ with status charts, annotation, notes and ‘to do lists‘ which are accessible to all staff members, not just senior management. Process data from the line and production control data from higher-end applications, such as the plant's ERP system, are integrated for both display and interrogation by shopfloor personnel. The system also automatically creates reports with all relevant information and appendices dealing with the discussed topics.

The screen represents something more than just an electronic version of a whiteboard. It is a continuously updated interactive tool that supports not just briefing meetings for personnel before they start work, but process control and improvement during the course of a shift. Crucially, vital information that could be sitting on an individual’s laptop or on a server, is available to everyone, facilitating better and faster decision-making.

The results, at Homburg have been dramatic with significant improvement across all major KPIs. Preparatory work on each valve slice has been reduced from 450 seconds down to zero and cycle times from 474 seconds down to 438 seconds in the course of the first year of operation. What’s more, inventory days have been reduced from three days down to 1.5 days with an overall production improvement of 20 per cent.

In line with its dual strategy, Bosch Rexroth has no intention of keeping ActiveCockpit to itself, successfully trialled in its own plants, it is now available to customers.

Dr Möller commented: “Our main aim for the first Industry 4.0 line at Homburg has been to gain the flexibility to enable production to ramp up and down and quickly adapt to new product families, and this has proved extremely successful.

“Having started with valve assembly we are now looking at the machining area and will follow up with the valve test area. We are quite certain that there are huge potential benefits from connecting worker, machine and material in industrial production in this way.”

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