Industry 4.0 software solutions: Who knows better than the users?

One of my most exciting projects this year was a survey of production managers at manufacturing companies (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). It was exciting in a number of ways, but above all because of how close it was to customers, users, and the knowledge they really need when they’re discussing Industry 4.0 and software solutions. It’s something we all hear a lot about, but now Bosch Software Innovations wanted to learn from the experts and give the story a proper structure.

To this end, we spent the last few months working with a market research institute to survey 190 users in manufacturing companies, asking which software solutions help them to implement meaningful Industry 4.0 projects. We had spoken with nine such users at the start of this year, all production managers at Bosch manufacturing plants. The next step was to conduct an online survey in which another 181 production experts answered our questions about their needs, their requirements, and the value of connected software solutions for Industry 4.0. One third of these experts are users in Bosch plants and two thirds work at other manufacturing companies. The key point is that we surveyed only users.

In May, SAP released the results of a similar survey, which had 72 participants.

When we started our survey with production managers working at various Bosch Group manufacturing plants in January 2015, we were eager to find out to what degree our solutions already had their finger on the pulse, or how we should pool our resources more effectively and focus them on particular applications. Our priority was for a limited team to generate as much benefit as possible with the Industry 4.0 software solutions being developed.

The level of interest in our survey was much higher than we had dared hope, and the answers were extremely helpful in discussions of our portfolio and resources.

Our customers talk of “transparency in the production process.” They need absolute clarity on the status of all aspects of their production system. Ultimately, they are looking for a “virtual representation of manufacturing” that is available in “real time”. But what does that mean in detail?

The focus is on three KPIs

  • The costs of maintenance and repair.
  • The failure costs.
  • And the production output.

Only then do logistics costs, inventory, and labor costs get figured in. If you are a production manager, ask yourself: How well positioned are you in relation to these KPIs, which are the focus of most participating users’ efforts to improve using Industry 4.0 software solutions?When it comes to production output, the priority is on downtimes (technical as well as organizational) and performance losses such as cycle time losses.

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Respond promptly to cut time and costs

To improve these KPIs, production managers highlighted the need for functionalities that help them increase transparency in the production process. What they are most interested in is monitoring deviations and active notification of the people responsible. The ultimate goal is to stop errors in the production process from occurring in the first place by promptly reacting or adjusting the process so errors are prevented. This is something that is already being done in the monitoring of safety-critical tightening processes.

The second most cited functionality is the visualization of production data held in various systems and databases. Such visualization requires that these systems first be integrated. Visualization alone – the presentation of distributed data in a central user interface – often proves hugely beneficial, regardless of whether the remaining steps are automated. Many times, the wealth of existing data becomes accessible for the first time – and with it the option of mining and generating value.

Providing information that’s relevant for whatever task the production manager is currently performing, comes in at third place on the list of desirable functionalities. This would for example allow a maintenance provider to receive suggested solutions in the event of machine downtime.

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What surprised me was how little importance people gave the topic of “business rules”. For production managers in particular, this is an exciting prospect for flexibly expanding and configuring their MES and for gaining an initial foothold in the world of intelligent analysis of production data. Nonetheless, people clearly don’t yet see this as a link in the chain leading to increased flexibility and productivity in manufacturing systems.

“Learning through specific projects”

To summarize so far: with our pilot projects in Bosch production plants and our first solutions beyond the Bosch Group, we now know we were heading in the right direction. Throughout the Bosch Group, people collaborate successfully to breathe life into the motto “learning through specific projects”. It’s the only way we can work together with our customers to determine what is really worthwhile. What’s needed is a “simple” way in. That’s what we recommend with our Industry 4.0 Innovation Cycle. Keep the focus on benefits that can be ascribed specific value and deliver immediate savings in your core business. Let’s take a look at a practical example to get a better idea.

Example: Cycle time monitoring

One of our industrial customers had a line where the actual output deviated considerably from the planned output. The basic idea was to monitor deviations from the average cycle time, as these provide insights into the quality of the manufacturing process. To this end, an upper and lower limit were defined.

The necessary software was developed and implemented. If there is a deviation beyond a predefined percentage, then the system generates a notification for production experts that includes precise information on which process parameters need to be adjusted on which lines. Minor cause – major effect. The return on investment was already positive within the first year.

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I’m looking forward to seeing your feedback on the key topics cited by the users we surveyed for Industry 4.0 software solutions. As a production manager, maybe your needs and experiences are different? Discuss with us! Please feel free to add comments here in the blog.

Stay tuned: In my next blog post I’ll be reporting on what obstacles production experts still have to overcome on the way to connected manufacturing.

 

About the author

Stefanie Peitzker

Stefanie Peitzker

I have a graduate degree in management with a specialization in geography (University Augsburg, Germany). Since 2003, I work for Bosch Software Innovations: I have built up marketing for Visual Rules, our Business Rules Management System and contributed in winning customers around the globe. Since January 2009, I run the Marketing Solutions team at Bosch Software Innovations, an agile team of currently seven associates, all trying to permanently learn more about the customers´needs and market trends – focused on making software solutions a real experience. I have been writing for different technology magazines (e.g. JavaMagazine). When I don’t work, I love to spend time – leisure as well as action – with my kids and in my running shoes around the Lake of Constance.