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Industry 4.0 paradigm

Today European industry faces a very significant set of challenges, arising from the advancement of technology and the current global situation, such as increasingly shorter product life cycles, volatility in demand, increasing number of variants, among other factors. Indeed, we are witnessing a change in the paradigm of industry – the fourth industrial revolution – which forces companies to prepare for the adoption and implementation of intelligent and interconnected “cyber-physical systems” that will allow people, machines, equipment, logistics systems and products to communicate and cooperate directly with each other. In the Industry 4.0 paradigm, namely in a digital factory, machines and products communicate with each other in real time and all processes are managed and optimised by information technology (IT).

The business model that currently predominates in the discrete manufacturing industry3 is based on the investment (CAPEX) in production equipment, which, due to the financial effort involved, results into lower levels of automation and an increase in the required workforce. The level of automation is mostly used in operations related to safety issues, ergonomics, quality, precision, high cadence and with an approach for single-product manufacturing. This paradigm results in an industry, both in Portugal and in Europe, with competitiveness deficits and suffering from very high competitive pressures, causing that sometimes the only alternative left is the relocation.

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On the other hand, the referred levels of automation do not allow the investments to be explored to their full potential due to the low incorporation of modularity, flexible concepts, monitoring, traceability and automatic learning. This automation paradigm results in an industry with low productivity, due essentially to low efficiency of the production equipments, equipments that are characterized by high losses in terms of changes within product families (Setup/changeover), high losses due to small breakdowns and adjustments, and quality losses resulting in low throughputs.

Simulation models in the product design phase that allow the evaluation of a machine concept to produce a certain reference or product are still inexistent or incipient, which limits the engineering of manufacturing equipment, creating the risk of the product having limitations for its production and consequently increasing production costs. This paradigm results in precarious flexibility, incipient risk management and a relatively low capacity to reuse existing equipment, consequently raising investment in new equipment to cope with new production.

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“If we cannot measure,
we cannot improve”

On the other hand, due to the almost non-existence of vertical integration of machines with analytical and management systems, the life cycle becomes more costly because improvements are very difficult to implement due to the absence of data and when they exist, they are inaccurate, usually asynchronous from the system – “If we cannot measure, we cannot improve”4.
The holistic perspective of the relationship between the manufacturing company and the machine manufacturer today, is relatively inefficient, uncertain and of great risk for both parties, given the dissociation and divergence of the current model.
Currently, the manufacturer of manufactured products, develops its product separately from its partner who will produce the automated manufacturing platform, with the relationship between these two key partners typically starting at a production planning stage, in the manufacturer side and in engineering stage, in the machine and equipment builder side. The product may have to undergo changes in order to be automatically assembled, or the machine will have to be relatively expensive because there was no symbiosis between one dimension and the other, from the product design and machine concept phase. This dissociation of the two dimensions generally culminates in manual processes which were not foreseen with high operational efforts, namely monotonous and repetitive work, forcing a very high rotation of people, greater production errors and culminating in relatively high non-quality costs, which constitute the greatest loss in a manufacturing system.

3 – Manufacture in which equipment and automatic machines interact towards a production objective, but require the attention and intervention, periodic or sporadic, of maintenance and supervision engineers.
4 – William Thomson quote.