Connected in the future

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Detlef Zühlke, professor emeritus for production automation and founder of the idea of the intelligent factory, on the challenges of digital change for companies and the glass industry in particular.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Detlef Zühlke, professor emeritus for production automation and founder of the idea of the intelligent factory, on the challenges of digital change for companies and the glass industry in particular.

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.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Detlef Zühlke founded the technology initiative SmartFactory KL e.V. with partners from industry and science. The initiative has more than 45 partners as well as a worldwide unique demonstration and research platform independent of producers. Innovative information and communication technologies are tested and further developed in industrial production environments on the Industrie 4.0 production lines. The goal: to pave the way for more flexible and efficient production concepts. Photo: SmartFactoryKL/C. Arnoldi
The SmartFactoryKL production facility shows the concepts of „Industry 4.0” live: decentralized production, batch size 1, universal networking. 18 industrial companies agreed on common hardware and IT standards and realized the project together as a network. Photo: SmartFactoryKL/C. Arnoldi

What does “Industrie 4.0” mean?

The term was coined in 2011 at the Hannover Messe in Germany, the world’s leading trade fair for industry. There is no corresponding international concept for the German creation; but often the German spelling “Industrie 4.0” or in English “Industry 4.0.” are used. However, numerous initiatives around the world are devoted to the underlying issue – the “Industrial Internet Consortium” (IIC) in the US, the “Industrial Value Chain Initiative” (IVI) in Japan, and efforts in China oriented to the “Industrie 4.0” concept of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Industrie 4.0 stands for the digitalization and connectivity of the entire industrial value chain. Smart factories represent the fourth industrial revolution after the steam engine, assembly line and electronics and IT. The technical basis is intelligent, digitally connected systems that enable largely self-organized production: people, machines, factories, logistics and products communicate and cooperate directly with each other.

August 22nd, 2017


Rina Della Vecchia
Marketing & Communication
SCHOTT North America, Inc.