In 1991, US scientist Mark Weiser described his vision of a future world with the concept of ubiquitous computing. Since then, many details of that vision have become reality: our cell phones are high-performance multimedia systems, our cars are computer systems on wheels and our homes intelligent living environments. These advances have to be transformed into new products on competitive markets in shorter cycles than ever before. Today, the resulting requirements for the design, construction and operation of our factories are decisive for our success. We need to develop technologies that allow us to speed up planning and build-up to enable rapid product change during operation and reduce development effort.
This is where Industrie 4.0 comes in. The keyword refers to the digital connectivity of all production systems. Cyber-physical systems allow the technologies of the Internet of Things to be transferred to the factory of the future – the Smart Factory: where products control their manufacturing process themselves and perform their own quality control. Rigid assembly lines become modular, efficient systems and resources. People are supported in more complex work by smart training and assistance systems. Several of these aspects are already finding their way into production worldwide. This is a great opportunity for innovative, agile companies. Those that can rely on the in-depth knowledge of excellently trained engineers and computer scientists have the best starting position in our globalized and fast-moving world.
The specialty glass industry faces specific challenges. The production of glass as a continuous process can only be compared with classical piece goods production to a limited extent. Nevertheless, it’s still important to use machine and process data intelligently: machines must be connected to exchange data and learn from each other. Errors could thus be avoided; production would optimize itself during the process. Connected data in the manufacturing process not only increases efficiency, but also product quality. In addition, Industrie 4.0 also offers the opportunity to obtain expert knowledge gained through decades of experience from glassmakers in specialty glass manufacturing – the key is knowledge management. Digital assistance systems help maintain existing knowledge and couple it with the new experiences of a younger generation of employees. This too allows new opportunities for sustainability to arise.