Industry 4.0 can’t really be called a trend anymore – it’s come to a point where manufacturers that don’t embrace it will simply be left behind. Staying ahead of the competition is about more than just latching onto the latest trends; it’s about making fundamental changes to the status quo.
Take Caleb Chamberlain and his business partners for example. Chamberlain is an electrical engineer by trade, but one of his hobbies is coding. These skills come in quite handy with the various business ventures he’s launched. One of the Utah native’s recent undertakings is a company that makes virtual reality motion simulators.
Those simulators were the catalyst for another company, OSH Cut (Open Source Hardware), a metal fabrication company based in Orem, Utah, that required the development of software and bringing a Trumpf fiber laser machine into the mix.
“What we’re doing is right in line with the objectives of Industry 4.0,” Chamberlain says.
Chamberlain has a passion for building things and the drive to take steps that others don’t. His brother, Jacom, has nearly completed his degree as a manufacturing engineer, and their brother-in-law, McKay Christensen, is a software engineer. Their different skill sets make them perfect partners in OSH Cut.
Although the concept of Industry 4.0 wasn’t in the front of the mind when the team developed their collaborative business venture surrounding virtual reality, they still ended up moving the ball forward in its regard.
Yerawizard is Chamberlain’s company that builds robotic motion simulation chairs, which users of virtual reality headsets employ to enhance the experience. The machines require a lot of steel parts, which created a bit of a problem. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
“We always have projects going on where we need steel fabrication,” he says. “We were frustrated with the fact that it takes so long to get parts and so long to get a quote. That’s what motivated this whole [OSH Cut] project.”
Chamberlain says about four months ago, he texted Jacom and McKay about getting a laser cutter so they could begin producing their own parts and sidestep all the waiting. The conversation developed quickly into one about developing a business around their laser cutter. A business plan was drawn up and an investor was identified, eventually leading to OSH Cut being established.
Some of Chamberlain’s work involves designing and utilizing circuit boards, which he has a third party build. They’re “super complicated,” he says, yet he can upload a design to a board manufacturer and get a quote almost instantly. Furthermore, his circuit boards can be built and delivered to his doorstep in two or three days if he wants, “and there are 100 companies that do that.”
“In the steel fabrication industry,” he says by contrast, “if I want to get a quote for a laser cut metal part, I literally have to wait for two or three days, at least, for the company to get back to me. From there, lead times are usually two to three weeks, and places don’t want to do one-offs or prototypes or low-volume stuff.”
For so long, consumers have benefited from the tech-savvy retail industry that provides detailed and fast order processing while manufacturing customers have remained accustomed to long lead times. Industry 4.0 is helping address those disparities – as are McKay and Chamberlain.
Given their expertise in software engineering, the two partners developed an online quote tool that knocks out the expensive overhead involved in providing an accurate quote, and this is what makes their business model unique.
They created an algorithm that looks at the history of steel prices, giving customers a fair approximation as to what the material costs will be through an online quoting process. What also makes their business model unique is that instead of shooing away low-volume orders, they cater to those who want 10 to 100 parts produced at a time.
It’s low volume, but their plan is to attract a high number of customers needing one-off parts, prototypes and other low-volume projects completed.
The software they developed takes into account the drawings customers upload and figures out how long it will take to make the cuts based on the material type and thickness. The customers get their quotes pretty much immediately through the website.
Deciding on 1030
Chamberlain’s first thought was to look on eBay for a used CO2 machine, but he found that costs were exorbitant, even for machines with 100,000 hours of use on them. The trio quickly changed their focus to a more reliable machine when tens of thousands more dollars would be involved in getting the used machine shipped, installed and optimized.
The winning Trumpf TruLaser1030 came with a two-week training course for Jacom, and a Trumpf technician came to Orem to install and set up the machine.
Tumpf refers to the 1030 as an “entry-level solution with major advantages.” At interview time, OSH Cut had just launched and was in the process of receiving its first big order, but Chamberlain is confident the Trumpf laser and the demand for work will allow them to grow as planned. OSH Cut, being a company that established a system that connects customers, machines and quotes for parts, fits firmly in the definition of Industry 4.0.
“No. 1,” he begins, “every laser cutting shop in the country is busy right now unless they are doing something wrong. We’re not concerned about there being enough work to do. No. 2 – it’s an idea whose time has come. The sheet metal industry has not kept pace with modern software tools. There is a huge technological gap between what’s possible and what the fabrication industry does. If we’re not the ones to change it, someone else will.”
Fortunately, Chamberlain isn’t alone in his pursuit to streamline operations. In fact, machine builders, such as Trumpf and LVD Strippit, have been paving the Industry 4.0 path for some time now.
4.0 and beyond
For years, the focus at LVD, a company that manufactures laser cutting machines, punch presses and press brakes, has been on software and control developments, which drive the company’s product advancements and further the principles of Industry 4.0.
“Our fundamental message is that Industry 4.0 is not itself a solution – it’s a path to reaching a solution,” says Kurt Debbaut, product manager, Cadman Software at LVD.
Debbaut says that a manufacturer can come to a solution by applying the values and the data that the process provides. Making machinery faster, he says, can only shorten the process time by a minimal percentage; reducing hidden time can make a much more substantial and significant reduction to the overall process flow.
LVD’s Cadman software suite is designed to facilitate Industry 4.0, looking at the big picture and helping to streamline the complete fabrication process through integrated, database-driven software that provides real-time insights from the shop floor.
“Our perspective is based around the intelligent organization of the overall process flow of a part – from beginning to end of production – for a smarter way of working that keeps margins down,” Debbaut says. “Based on quick response manufacturing principles, with order status visible at all times, the software will need to be able to calculate optimum buffer times for reduced work in progress [order intake to invoice], shorter delivery lead times and efficient production, which all lead to a lower cost per part.”
The process also reduces waste, uses less material, and results in greater output levels and faster paperless production.
More than machines
At Trumpf, Industry 4.0 is a necessary next step as a company, says Tobias Reuther, director of Trumpf’s Smart Factory. It’s a process that addresses not only the machines but the entire process chain for its customers.
“We are setting up our own organization to support our customers and make sure they remain competitive using intelligent solutions allowing reduced cost per part,” Reuther explains.
Trumpf has several solutions already in the market, such as the MES system called TruTops Fab, which connects the entire shop floor and processes. This allows full transparency, which leads to more efficient manufacturing. Another example is the company’s SmartGlasses, which allow customers to connect to Trumpf’s service experts via augmented reality.
“Besides dialing into a machine remotely,” he says, “we now have ‘eyes, ears and hands’ on-site for troubleshooting situations. This is a significant improvement and helps resolve the majority of the problems remotely. A clear win-win situation, the machine is up and running faster and we do not have to send a technician, in most cases.”
The path to Industry 4.0 entails physical changes and changes in the infrastructure and software. The processes are changed slowly, not overnight. Manufacturers not pursuing the path will have difficulties remaining competitive, Reuther explains.
Among the advantages Industry 4.0 has provided, manufacturers have noticed a better sense of their product flow, but there are a number of aspects related to it. For example, the most important enabler is connectivity of all relevant machines, workplaces and systems, Reuther says.
“Having connectivity leads to transparency – so you know what is going on at any time,” he notes. “But if you stop here, the gain will be minimal. After these two enabling factors, the game really begins.”
So, what measures do you take if you know instantaneously that a machine has stopped production due to an issue? Reuther says that manufacturers could set up the system so it sends a text message to the operator so they know to get to the machine quickly and make the fix.
“You could set new incentive structures for your people – evaluated by output and how they manage their process,” he adds.
No matter the level in which Industry 4.0 is executed, it is the open-mindedness to its benefits that is important to remember. Overall, when machines and people are better connected through software and automation, manufacturers and their customers win – small startups and industry veterans agree.