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Machinery safety in an Industry 4.0 environment

Machinery safety in an Industry 4.0 environment

How do we tackle Industry 4.0 concerns from a machinery safety perspective? Paul Taylor of TUV SUD Product Service offers guidance.

The main cornerstone of Industry 4.0 is the convergence of enterprise IT and operational technology (OT). Industry 4.0 is a major paradigm shift for industry, with technological enablers such as the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Big Data being increasingly deployed. New generations of complex networks are being created as the boundaries between these two areas, previously largely separate, become increasingly indistinct, and IoT devices and new automation technologies are rapidly introduced. The challenge for machinery end users is to maintain secure functioning of their automated processes, while protecting their networks from unauthorised access or even attack.

Interoperability describes the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data. For two systems to be interoperable, they must be able to exchange data and subsequently present that data such that it can be understood by a user. Advanced sensors are already finding their way into modern manufacturing lines, facilitating informed decision-making. But this is just the beginning. Further innovations will unlock the full potential of smart component technologies.

Standing on the threshold of Industry 4.0, what is required to reach maturity and reap the full benefits of smart manufacturing? Industrial manufacturing will face massive disruption as developments move towards fully connected, self-organising intelligent factories. This will trigger significant potential for efficiency improvements, including energy consumption reduction and downtime prevention.

The smart factories of tomorrow will be based on modular architectures, with standardised interfaces and state-of-the-art information technology that permit highly flexible, automated ‘plug and produce’ manufacturing. In the longer term, advances in autonomy and flexibility will drive a shift in the economic principles of production. For example, it will be possible to manufacture small lot sizes cost-efficiently, meeting an increasing demand for customised products.

This ongoing digital transformation is driving innovation across a wide range of industries, which will face significant challenges as technological developments move towards fully connected, self-organising intelligent factories, where manufacturing devices will autonomously self-optimise.

Technology components can theoretically be combined to form a mature smart factory in the vision of Industry 4.0. However, each manufacturing device enters the production line with its own set of proprietary interfaces. In other words, the components each speak a different language. How can we facilitate smooth and dynamic interoperability among odd components?

The solution is an electronic reproduction – a so-called ‘digital twin’, or ‘administration shell’ of each physical component. The digital twin contains the complete set of parameters of its physical sibling, as well as adaptive algorithms for decentralised self-optimisation and safety measures. Acting as an intermediary, the digital twin functions as a standardised interface between the smart components, facilitating flawless interoperability and delivering a dynamically reconfigurable system.

Currently, industrial automation is a consolidated reality, with approximately 90% of machines in factories being unconnected. These isolated and static systems mean that product safety (functional safety and security) can be comfortably assessed. However, the connected world of Industry 4.0’s smart factories adds a new dimension of complexity in terms of machinery safety challenges. IoT connects people and machines, enabling bidirectional flow of information and real-time decisions. Its diffusion is now accelerating with the reduction in size and price of the sensors, and with the need for the exchange of large amount of data.

As we prepare for Industry 4.0, it is therefore vital to consider the shifting landscape of risk. A smart factory will see reduced risk in several areas, such as fewer worker injuries as machines take over hazardous tasks. However, the increasing number of physical and digital interfaces, including interconnected devices controlled by intelligent dashboards, introduces a new set of vulnerabilities, risks and liability issues. Based on its complexity, a dynamically reconfigurable system requires an integrated approach to safety assessment.

These flexible system architectures and self-configuring systems of Industry 4.0 will call for a new, modular method of certification that delivers integrated support for machinery end users as they progress towards Industry 4.0. The key benefit of modular certification is the major cost and time savings it contributes to the operation of adaptive self-configuring Industry 4.0 production systems. Our experts are therefore developing a modular certification scheme for smart factory components, addressing issues such as interface standards, interoperability, functional safety and IT security.

The digital transition is an enormously challenging time for industry, confronting it with the issue of how to maximise the opportunities offered by Industry 4.0, the ‘fourth Industrial Revolution’, while at the same time reducing the risks involved in increasing interoperability. By combining the strengths of the physical and virtual worlds, cyber-physical systems have the potential to significantly enhance industry performance, facilitate new products and spark innovative business models. Today, industry depends on human supervision and decision-making, but tomorrow’s smart factory machines will have the ability to interpret their environment and autonomously react to it.

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