Smart factory, IoT, Big Data – how Industry 4.0 is changing engineering

Vision of a brave new world, omnipresent buzzword and now, it would seem, at last real-world practice – Industry 4.0 is here. Wherever the potential benefits of fully networked production systems are finally being recognised, industry experts are working out the implications for individual subsectors. In the era of the ‘internet of things’, engineering too sees itself confronted by a multitude of changes. How will the fourth industrial revolution impact on the dynamic between systems operators and developers, and what challenges will ‘big data’ present for engineering? You’ll find the answers here.

Big Data

Redistributing responsibility

In real-world industry 4.0 practice, autonomous self-educating devices and components will replace superordinate control systems. This means that a major share of responsibility will pass from systems operators to developers. They must develop autonomous systems that react flexibly to changing situations and communicate independently. This requires mechanisms that can make the ‘behaviour’ of a manufacturing plant safe and reliable. At the same time these must not be too severely regulated, because particularly in the case of components that are even partly autonomous, it remains difficult to predict all relevant scenarios.

Seamless networking

In the medium term, anyone who plans to survive this development requires a networked engineering system with as few system failures as possible. Holistic digital models of machines and plants, which provide cross-system, interdisciplinary data throughout their entire life cycle, are an indispensable precondition for this. Function-oriented systems using databases, such as Aucotec’s Engineering Base platform, can link planning processes both during the development of onboard electrical systems for production vehicles, and during the construction of satellites, specialised machinery, energy supply networks or chemical plants and other large-scale installations.

Additionally, the new status quo needs a form of documentation in which the engineering steps taken by each agent are stored in a central database. With Engineering Base, all information and any possible changes can immediately be viewed in all documentation formats. All parties involved can constantly view the current status of an installation. In this way, networked operation in the internet of things can be configured so as to be consistent and transparent.

Customer-specific series manufacture

Moreover, engineering must meet the specific requirements that Industry 4.0 presents. These include individualisation of products and production of minute lot sizes at an efficiency on par with that of mass production. The goal is to fulfil ever more personalised customer wishes with the highest possible degree of standardisation. Coping with these demands requires carefully considered modular engineering systems. With Engineering Base, an unlimited diversity of system components and the maximum possible variants of machine configuration can simply be combined with one another. In this way, the system enables the manufacture of custom-built products in lot sizes of 1, quickly and consistently.

‘Big data’ without limits

Further challenges are presented by central monitoring of networked production processes and dealing with unwieldy data volumes – ‘big data’. The latter are generated, for example, from communications between machines and products, or IT applications such as predictive maintenance. In the face of this flood of data, a simple archiving system is no longer adequate. With its open, expandable concept, Engineering Base does away with the need for inflexible databases. Besides specific engineering data, the platform also allows heterogeneous information related to engineering to be embedded. In other words, there are no limits for big data here.

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