Wednesday 13th Nov, 2019

From the clouds to the ground: the benefits of Industry 4.0 technology

Andre Kluge, Managing Director of Schaeffler Australia, explores some of the tangible benefits from Industry 4.0 advances for the bulk handling industry.

Andre Kluge, Managing Director of Schaeffler Australia, explores some of the tangible benefits from Industry 4.0 advances for the bulk handling industry.

Australia has doubled its digital growth over the last five years and the trend looks to be accelerating, with an expected 50 billion devices to be connected to the internet by 2020, according to the McKinsey Global Institute’s Internet of Things report Mapping the value beyond the hype.

Deloitte Australia’s Digital pulse report also finds the total economic contribution of the digital economy by 2020 is forecast to reach $139 billion, equivalent to 7.3 per cent of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product.

One of the major questions asked about Industry 4.0 advances is ‘what are the tangible benefits?’ This especially applies to business-to-business companies in industrial sectors like mining, materials handling, manufacturing, food and beverage, water and waste, agriculture, and resources.

It’s a good question. Companies that are looking at the cost, performance and efficiency of their operations need to know that new technologies which sound good in theory, and look good on paper, will work in practice.

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Globally, Schaeffler has invested considerable time researching and demonstrating the benefits of Industry 4.0. Its research indicates most industry sectors in the region contemplating expanded digitalisation, see it producing revenue improvements of typically 10 to 15 per cent over the next three or four years.

The potential goes beyond just connected machinery, with efficiency, adaptability to individual needs, safety and machinery lifespan optimisation all seeing strong improvements through online monitoring and maintenance.

Strong partnerships with all stakeholders are critical to successfully execute applications. If all parties, including equipment suppliers, technology suppliers, manufacturers and end-users embrace Industry 4.0 from the outset, results are far more likely to meet or exceed expectations.

Once all parties are on board, setting the right foundation for the successful implementation of digital technologies relies on sourcing quality components, using advanced mechanical systems and having the right mechatronics and Industry 4.0 expertise.

Key tangible benefits

Cost reductions. A major value driver for industrial companies is the potential for a new technology to provide cost efficiencies, or even pay back the initial investment. Industry 4.0 can provide cost benefits in three main areas:

  Reduced downtime. Advances in condition monitoring technology can radically improve predictive maintenance plans and ensure machinery downtime is scheduled during times of least impact on production. Companies implementing digitalisation typically see machine downtime reductions of around 30 to 50 per cent.

  Reduced maintenance costs. With downtime planned at optimal times and machinery continuously monitored, maintenance programs can be streamlined, to reduce costs. Companies implementing digitalisation typically see maintenance cost reductions of 10 to 40 per cent.

  Reduced inventory holdings costs. By planning maintenance schedules in advance, along with real-time condition reporting on machinery and parts, there is no longer a need to keep an abundance of spare parts for when a machine breaks down. Companies implementing digitalisation typically see inventory holding cost reductions of 20 to 50 per cent.

Efficiency improvements. In Australia’s competitive industries, efficiency is vital to long-term, profitable operations. Industry 4.0 can provide efficiency benefits in three main areas:

  Optimised production. Smart connected products provide data on what goes on inside machinery, allowing for better control and management of important machinery and plant.

  Shorter lead times. Advances in software provide logistics and supply chain efficiencies that result in faster delivery times, even for custom-designed products and solutions.

  Flexibility and adaptability. Digitalisation advances mean that more data than ever is available on machinery and operations. If there is a need for new equipment, upgrades or retrofits, the data can be used to create a custom solution and help the company react swiftly to market changes.

Continuous monitoring

For production-critical machinery, continuous monitoring through vibration diagnosis can be indispensable. Investing in such systems often pays for itself after a few months due to the reduced failure costs.

Depending on the area of application, different sensor configurations and solutions can be applied, including single-channel standalone solutions for smaller equipment, medium-sized systems with up to eight channels and complex monitoring systems with up to 2048 sensor channels.

Condition monitoring technology can integrate into existing systems to upgrade their efficiency and performance. The user can decide whether to monitor the system independently or take advantage of online system monitoring services, with the ability to have remote analysis carried out by digitalisation experts.

Smart technologies require a smart approach

Industry is critically dependent upon optimum bearing and rotating machinery performance, which is why automation and digital strategies must incorporate such technologies from the very outset.

Adding digital technologies, such as sensors, at a later stage in the process will provide benefits, but not at the same rate or effectiveness as those implemented at the beginning.

Developing a digital strategy, as early as possible, is the best way to take advantage of the tangible benefits of Industry 4.0 technologies.