Bosch on 2021: A rallying cry for flexible, efficient production in times of crisis
The coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis has changed the way we work like no event or crisis before. What it has shown is that digitization of the industrial sector, and of factories in particular, is required as a matter of urgency, in order to bring flexible and efficient production, which lets businesses work, even in a time of crisis. This is an account of the ways the industrial IoT movement helps with manufacturing, and how it will be positioned in 2021.
With Covid-19, staff in many industrial sites have been required to work from home, suddenly; contact restrictions have forced new shift-models in many factories. Some companies have shut down production altogether; many others have struggled to react to fluctuating or abrupt ramp-ups in demand. At the same time others, with more advanced Industry 4.0 strategies, have been able to adapt their processes in next to no time in order to accommodate entirely new product lines.
If there is one lesson we can draw from the Covid-19 crisis, it is the need for digitalization. Factories must be ultimately flexible to adapt to changing situations. While uncertain times often don’t permit high investments with long ROI times, there is an urgent requirement in manufacturing to introduce measures to help reduce costs quickly, and with as little effort as possible. This can only be done with intelligent software that acts as the brain of connected manufacturing and logistics – and enables manufacturers to develop strategies for any project scope.
Digitalization can start small and gradually build on what is already there, depending on the budget and the requirements. For instance, existing machines can be catapulted into the digital age with only a few industrial IoT devices such as sensors and gateways – and software that connects all the devices and players together. The software collects data from the machines, which are often of different ages and types, and ‘translates’ it into a common language.
It makes data usable for different user groups. For example, quality engineers need very precise data from specific manufacturing steps; manufacturing planners are looking to achieve the highest possible overall equipment effectiveness. Moreover, digital energy management can contribute to making production more energy-efficient and to reduce CO2 consumption significantly.
Another important part of an efficient and sustainable digitalization strategy is intralogistics. By digitalizing material flows and transport routes, materials arrive at manufacturing lines quicker and in the right quantity. This makes processes more efficient, and saves both time and costs. In the end, staff are supported in tedious and time-consuming tasks.
This is important; digitalization is not about removing people from production. Instead, it is about enabling them to work more flexibly with digital solutions. Factory workers must accept new technologies, and enjoy working with them. They should experience them as facilitators in their daily tasks. Hence, they need the right qualifications, thorough training and someone to guide them through this change process. This will be a major focus on 2021.
Above all, digitalization is about making work and production processes more flexible and more efficient so that they can be quickly adapted to new and sometimes unknown situations – as we are experiencing now with the Covid-19 pandemic.