Glass Industry 4.0 – Producers, processors & finishers get smarters

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4th Industrial Revolution to be one of the themes at glasstec 2018

The term Industry 4.0 has been on everyone’s mind for some time now. It is synonymous with digitalization and connection of the complete industrial value chain.

After dramatic developments at the beginning of the industrial age such as the introduction of the steam engine, assembly line and later IT, the 4th Industrial Revolution is now marked by more and more smart factories. This change does not stop short of glass production, processing and finishing either. Many exhibitors at glasstec 2018 in Düsseldorf will therefore focus on the theme of Industry 4.0 and exhibit interesting developments. Incidentally, the term “Industry 4.0” was already invented as early as in 2011 on the occasion of the Hannover Fair. The revolutionary thing about this trend, however, is the digitalization and connection of the entire industrial value chain – from order entry and upstream supplies orders to manufacturing and complete logistics. And when experts talk of the Internet of Things, it means that the connection, of course, is no longer limited to your own “four factory walls”. All your suppliers and customers are also incorporated into this virtual network. This makes it possible to trigger order processes immediately and to state precise delivery times for even the smallest of batch sizes. It is possible since both your material inventory and that of your supplier are checked almost simultaneously to verify and/or lay down manufacturing timetables. In such a flexible production environment, machines also plan their own maintenance intervals, scheduling them in production breaks and over the weekend. Down times are to be avoided if possible. This means that in smart factories, products can handle their own manufacturing process and even control their own quality assurance. Humans are assisted by smart training and assistance systems in their increasingly complex job routines and, needless to say, form part of this giant network. For many, this will probably still sound like wishful thinking but it is increasingly getting real. Those not worrying about this today, will possibly be ousted from the market tomorrow. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that some 70% of all SMEs are currently taking a very close look at Industry 4.0 concepts, says a study commissioned by the Ministry of Economics. However, not all of them define Industry 4.0 in the same way. And, naturally, the requirements made on glass manufacturers differ from those made on window producers or finishers. But both supposedly convert their outfits into smart factories in small steps such as the purchase of new machinery or manufacturing robots. But the changeover is inevitable since new technologies are more efficient, thereby increasing competitiveness while cutting costs.

Interface: Software
In this increasingly automated and digitalized production process, software plays a key role because it is these programs that enable communication and digital connection. At a processor’s site, for example, there must be a highperformance overriding software that virtually “talks” to all machines while “staying in touch” with the outside world that also forms part of the network. Alongside a common language and the respective interfaces, the digital interplay of all parties involved also needs a sound database to work on. In this network, the master software performs the function of an overriding control center. The software collects incoming customer orders, processes and coordinates all machine data. This means that order processes, maintenance and failure reports of the machines are also managed and handled by this central control software. To achieve perfect manufacturing capacity utilization, the software also assigns orders and items smartly and flexibly and, last but not least, also organizes storage and logistics. At a smart factory, the software therefore has to feature virtually unlimited dovetailing options for networking. For many years the paperless office has been on everyone’s lips – but without any tangible success. In the increasingly digitalized and automated production process, lowpaper and/or paperless manufacturing is already taken for granted today. One example: at each workstation monitors display the required manufacturing data. Status reports can be retrieved at any time and any place. This means the whole process will become transparent – from the first to the last moment. And this also makes it possible to carry out more quality controls.

From Automation to Digitalisation
One example of change already taking place at many production sites is growing automation, which – in the figurative sense – can be seen as one step in the direction of Industry 4.0. In glass processing, laser technology is being used to an increasing extent. State-of-the-art laser finishing centers often meet all needs of digitalized production. Lasers are used to apply extremely high-quality engravings to glass sheets. Any graphic design, any image or even any photo can be applied to glass sheets by means of laser technology. Around the globe it is architects, in particular, who are increasingly demanding that glass sheets are finished in this way as attractive and representative façade solutions for facilities. The same lasers can also perform drilling and cutting processes or edge deletion processes. Permanent development of beam sources and improved software programs have increased processing speeds over the past few years and have also helped to put the oft lamented high power consumption in a perspective. Automation enables modern machines such as lasers or manufacturing robots to operate practically round the clock and even at weekends. This necessarily also alters the demands made on the workforce. More and more specialists are called for in manufacturing because processes and tasks are becoming ever more complex. Support by Policy-Makers Although the changes in companies are gradual, the glass sector is still undergoing a fundamental change. Fortunately, policy-makers are not leaving companies “in the lurch” in this process, as Prof Dr Detlef Zühlke, Chairman of the Board of the technology initiative SmartFactory KL e.V., stresses: “Ongoing education demonstrates to companies time and again the tremendous opportunities that digitalisation holds for them. It is in particular the SMEs so critical for Germany that need and receive Laser finishing centres take automation one step further. At the same time, they often allow integration in smart production. Photo: Cerion Technical Article support here.” Early 2016 saw the first SME-4.0 Centers of Expertise being established and funded by the German Ministry of Economics. Their task is to accompany small and medium-sized companies in the implementation of ideas in the field of Industry 4.0 and digitalization. These centers are also designed to adapt workers’ skills to the new challenges. Many exhibitors at glasstec in Düsseldorf will pick up on the Glass Industry 4.0 theme and present their approaches in this field.

About glasstec 2018
glasstec 2018 will be held on October 23 – 26 in Düsseldorf, Germany. The focus of glasstec 2018 will be on interactive glass in the flat glass segment and on energy-efficient and emission-reducing glass manufacturing technologies for container glass. For exhibitors, the most important visitor target group is the glass industry, followed by mechanical engineering, architecture and construction as well as German skilled craftspeople, and craftsmen from abroad.

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