Three years ago, with inject 4.0 ENGEL introduced its answer to the challenges of Industry 4.0. In the meantime, the terms smart machine, smart production and smart service have become established throughout the entire plastics industry, and in many areas, the smart factory has arrived in practice.
"It is now time for the next step", announces Dr. Stefan Engleder, CEO of the ENGEL Group, at the ENGEL inject 4.0 Forum at the end of June in Linz, Austria. Marketplaces will connect companies along the value chain and generate new products and services for the injection moulding industry. "The digital transformation is guiding inject 4.0 into a new dimension", says Engleder.
At the event, to which ENGEL has invited a select circle of innovation-driven inject 4.0 users, it once again becomes clear that digitalisation is not an end unto itself. The goal of Industry 4.0 is to utilise the full potential of machines, systems and technologies in order to strengthen competitiveness, operate with more flexibility and securely manage increasing complexity. Transparency and the assistance that builds on it are the keys to more efficiency.
"We have already made great strides in this direction", says Stefan Engleder. "However, it has always been clear to us that in terms of Industry 4.0, we were setting out on a long voyage. The goal is known, the way there must be continuously developed, stage by stage, in collaboration with our customers and partners. At this time, we are facing the next big step."
Horizontal networking as a goal
So far, the path to the smart factory has been focused on the function-related optimisation of individual value creation stages such as production and sales, and on indirect value creation areas such as maintenance management and quality assurance. To this end, machine and process data are collected and analysed, and the shop floor is vertically linked to the operations management level on the basis of digital twins of the machines and systems.
As a rule, the classic IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) platforms for this are proprietary solutions. In practice, however, vertical platform structures are unable to meet the requirements of processing data from various provider systems and correlating these with the data from other companies. The goal of digital transformation is therefore the transition to horizontal platforms that bundle the know-how and offerings of various companies. An open, horizontal networking allows for the cross-functional optimisation of processes along the entire value chain.
"The digital transformation is just beginning. We see a great opportunity here. We are inviting our customers and partners to continue actively developing the future of smart production in collaboration with us, and to tailor the new solutions specifically to the requirements of the plastics industry”, says Engleder. "This way, we will all derive the optimum benefit from these newly arising opportunities."
Marketplace for the entire value chain
The role model are B2C marketplaces like Amazon or Google. Instead of handling physical assets and their related value creation activities, these companies act as intermediaries between supply and demand, connecting marketplace participants with the help of digital technologies. In order to generate new services, the platforms assemble a multitude of data. The capacity to process and analyse data constitutes the foundation on which to serve customer needs better and in a more targeted fashion. This trend is penetrating into the B2B sector, with the term marketplace also becoming established there. In future, market participants with the same, similar or complementary value streams will communicate through marketplaces, offer their products and technologies there, and include their suppliers as well as their customers in this network. The plastics processor using multiple systems from different providers will find all relevant information in a central location and can use the applications offered – so-called apps – with particular efficiency. "Horizontal networking provides the basis for new business models that supplement our current ones and offer added value to our customers", says Engleder. ADAMOS, for example, offers an industry-specific marketplace of this kind. It is a manufacturer-agnostic, open platform that has been developed specifically for the requirements of machine engineering and its customers, and in which ENGEL also participates.
Pilot factory launching
The Austrian plastics industry is traditionally strong in innovation and is also among the pioneers in terms of digital transformation. It is no coincidence that a pilot factory for interdisciplinary, platform-based cooperation is being created at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz. Next year, the LIT Factory, in which, in addition to ENGEL, the companies Borealis, Covestro, Erema, FACC, Greiner, Leistriz, Motan, Siemens and others are participating, will commence operations.
"The LIT Factory allows us to test the new possibilities under practical conditions, gather experience together with our partners, continue researching the challenges of horizontal networking, and develop new solutions", states Engleder. One already known challenge is uninterrupted connectivity, for not all participants in the value chain are compatible with each other. "A common marketplace will accelerate the development of standards", says Engleder. "In the long term, we expect that various marketplaces will become networked with each other and allow for the exchange of data between participants."
From the production of raw materials to the recycling of plastics products that are no longer needed, the platform of the LIT Factory includes the entire value chain. In this way, horizontal networking is helping to move other urgent future topics forward. One example is the closing of value streams. The Circular Economy requires an even closer cooperation of businesses along the value chain, which can be designed especially easily and efficiently on a marketplace.