It is the catchphrase of the last few years. It can be heard at every industrial congress. Talks are held on it, and workshops offered. The major multinationals want it, small and medium-sized businesses want it, and even the German government has it on its agenda: Industry 4.0.
At universities and research institutes, in IT development, consulting, and in the companies themselves, everyone is talking about the chances and opportunities inherent in Industry 4.0. A great deal can be read and heard about the real and virtual worlds in industrial production, cyber-physical systems, globalism, intelligent and self-controlling production processes and the integration of customer processes in the overall workflow.
On the one hand, an image of a future is drawn in which the use of new technologies is a matter of course, in order to develop and sell competitive products and services, and implement new business models. However, this does not reflect reality: product developers face a daily battle to carry out their projects within the prescribed budgets and time frames - under increasingly difficult conditions. Product complexity, globalisation of developments and markets, new legal requirements, cost pressure from low-wage countries, a shortage of qualified young staff – the list of possible obstacles is long. So how can the gap between the optimistic future scenarios and the daily difficulties be bridged? Is it at all possible? Or is Industry 4.0 just a buzzword that will have been replaced by the next trend within a few years?
The "Industry 4.0" vision of the future should be regarded as an ideal state. It provides guidance as to which direction to take and motivation for initiating changes. At the moment, it is impossible to say exactly when it will be possible to implement Industry 4.0, and at what cost. However, the important thing is to quickly increase the effectiveness of product development and at the same time pave the way for Industry 4.0. Experts from Feynsinn, EDAG's process consulting service, have developed two concrete steps to bring this about.
1. Structuring the product development process
The result of the product development process is data or information. One of the fundamental requirements of Industry 4.0 is the digital consistency of the value chain, i.e. the uninterrupted use of the data from the first stage of product development to the end of the products' service lives. To begin with, this sounds logical and simple – but in reality it is actually a serious challenge.
To go from a rather unstructured product development process with a great many informal relations to structured data handling, a structure must first be established on the process side; not until this has been done can the appropriate IT tool for data management be sought. Feynsinn call this "tool follows process“.
People often try to leave out the process re-structuring stage and implement a software tool, for instance a product lifecycle management system (PLM), straight away. It is tempting to believe that once you have got the tool, everything else will somehow sort itself out. Coordination problems, high costs and lacking employee acceptance are possible consequences, and these can slow down a development department for a long time. If, on the other hand, the product development process is re-structured and tested as though it were a new prototype in the real-life working environment (i.e. not just "PowerPoint process engineering") before a PLM system is implemented, then an extremely detailed requirements profile can be drawn up for the PLM system which is to be purchased, which will greatly reduce both the purchasing cost and the implementation risk.
2. Structuring the early development phase
Concepts are defined during the early development phase. As this means that functions and costs are already largely fixed, it is well worth paying particular attention to this phase. At this point in time, creativity and the cooperation of various different divisions are of great significance. At first glance, it might therefore seem as though structuring and the support of IT tools are inappropriate. After all, who wants to nip any kind of creative solution in the bud through having to satisfy the demands of IT tools? Right? Wrong!
Existing PLM systems have have no solution for this, and even in large, well organised companies, the concept development phase is often lacking in structure. As a result, the work contents are inadequately defined and cannot be taken into account. This makes it difficult for functioning front-loading to be established. As omissions in the early development phase can never be made good again, it makes sense to define a structured process for this phase, too. This will then be a common thread running through all the necessary tasks, ensuring that they are handled on time and in full. In some companies, there is a tendency not to take cross-divisional cooperation and communication - especially in the concept phase - seriously enough (e.g. between product development and sales). In such cases, too, a structured process is helpful. Not, however, just to satisfy the demands of an IT system, but to create a clear added value: to prevent the loss of information in product development.
In this way, the results achieved during the concept phase are secured and made available for future work. Adjacent areas such as procurement or controlling then receive the information they need earlier and in a better quality.
Once again, to summarise, here are the two steps on the way to Industry 4.0:
1. Structuring the product development process with subsequent introduction of consistent data management
2. Structuring the early development phase with the support of appropriate IT tools
The sequence in which these steps need to be carried out depends on the specific situation of the company. The steps are a way of ensuring that better products can be developed in a shorter time and at lower cost. It should therefore not take very long to amortise investments in consulting and IT. Following this, further important matters can be dealt with.
Munich-based Feynsinn, EDAG's process consulting team, have created and copyrighted a comprehensive concept (Entwicklung 4.0® [Development 4.0]) which will pave the way to Industry 4.0 for companies with complex product development processes, and help to place their product development on a competitive footing. The modular approach adopted for Entwicklung 4.0® makes it possible to find and implement the correct way for each individual company.
It is based on the best practice processes, which have been established in product development for some time now. To these tried and tested processes, which can be grouped together under the heading "lean development", new principles derived from the requirements of Industry 4.0 and disruptive technologies have been added. Consistent data management is of primary importance. This requirement helps to bring about clarity in the product development processes that need to be re-defined.
By structuring the early development phase, as mentioned above, a reliable basis is formed for the data that will created during product development. Suitable data models bring information from all technical departments together. This ensures that account is taken of the increasing degree of interdependence between mechanical systems, electronic systems and software in the development work.
The increasing volume of information being processed during the development process means that particular attention needs to be focused on the layout of the work environment of the product developers. The workplace of the future will have to pay greater attention to the information requirements of each employee than is the case today. User interfaces and visualisation will need to be user-friendly. This will increase job satisfaction and permit adjustments to be made to suit the visual and operating habits of young engineers used to computer games and smartphones.
The details of exactly how the principles of Entwicklung 4.0® will be put into practice must be worked out separately for each company, with the employees involved. Processes and IT systems must help employees and enable them to handle their work to the best possible effect. Generally speaking, ready-made solutions cannot do this. When introducing Entwicklung 4.0®, it is important to find the right starting point for each company, and to follow a gradual procedure so as not to jeopardise ongoing project work.