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What functions can Industry 4.0 access here and now?
In the era of integrated industry, individual workpieces will determine for themselves what functions they need production installations to provide, predicts Dr Peter Post, head of corporate research and programme strategy at Festo.
Industry 4.0 represents a significant shift from rigid, centralised factory control systems to decentralised intelligence. Machines, installations, workpieces and other components will exchange data and information in real time. Tasks that are currently still performed by a central master computer will be taken over by components. These will network with one another in an intelligent way, carry out their own configuration with minimal effort and independently meet the varying requirements of production orders.
This concept of 'Integrated Industry' is characterised by the networking-together of the automation components within the production system, a continuous exchange of data, the combination of the evaluation of various sensor signals and a facility for the detection of complex events and independent local decision-making and control. And we can already see a means of achieving much of this, for example with the concept of integrated automation from Festo, based on the CPX automation platform.
This electrical terminal for valve terminals already offers more than just a means of linking the field and master control levels. It already has diagnostic facilities and can provide condition monitoring functions. Its individual modules already make it possible to integrate the control of pneumatic cylinders via the MPA and VTSA modular valve terminals together with motion controllers for electric drives. And it already offers integrated safety functions.
This makes it possible to access diagnostic information, locate faults quickly and replace modules. Examples of the integration of functions include IT services such as web servers, a front end controller for decentralised local control, an end-position controller, a proportional valve or a pressure sensor for detecting internal valve terminal pressures or external signals.
CPX can already integrate all normal bus systems and Industrial Ethernet. This means that CPX is well-equipped for the future. Experts predict that the era of Industry 4.0 will mean the end of the present-day chaos of countless different bus systems. There will then be only one single, worldwide standardised protocol - an Internet protocol based on a real-time capable WLAN or Ethernet.
This trend towards simplicity is based on the same philosophy as the new adaptive and intelligent installation platforms. Until now, if there was some change to the product, parts of the production installation needed to be modified. The new highly adaptive installations, however, will adapt automatically to future product modifications. There will be no need for discussions about machine setting times in the factory of the future.
Electric drive technology is also following this trend. It is already receiving significant impetus from the Festo 'Optimised Motion Series' positioning system. At the heart of this system is the EPCO electric cylinder. This is a prime example of how electric cylinders can be used simply and cost-effectively in factory automation. Software tools make web configuration and web diagnostics extremely simple. As a result, electric drives are just as easy to handle as pneumatic cylinders.
In the era of Industry 4.0, robots will cooperate actively with human beings. With their intelligent sensors, they will display an ability to take alternative routes similar to that of people. They will be aware of their environment and be able to judge even complex situations. This will mean that robots will no longer be a hazard to human beings and will be able to support workers in performing manual tasks as part of an industrial assistance system. The prize-winning Bionic Handling Assistant and the ExoHand, both from Festo, are the present-day pioneers of this development.
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