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Leveraging smart automated SI energy, Toes helps manufacturers move towards Industry 4.0

Undoubtedly, the hottest topic currently in the manufacturing sector is "Industry 4.0," and most firms hope to utilize ICT, software and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to build up their smart and automation synergy. However, everything has a beginning. To enter Industry 4.0, firms need to have a strong automation foundation, and through data collection and analytics, smart decisions can be made.

Industry 3.0 saw the industry utilize computer technology to turn hardware control circuit into software, and make it more digitalized. Industry 3.0 gave birth to PLC supporting complicated logic. This was a huge improvement compared to Industry 2.0. And now, as we move towards Industry 4.0, the goal is to use the bases we have now and integrate elements such as cloud computing, big data, and IoT technologies. Smart processes can help the industry shorten the time needed to complete the otherwise tedious and time-consuming operations such as manufacturing process management, procurement, and production scheduling. And such a prospect alone is already enough to whip up much interest in Industry 4.0 among firms.

Wen-Jinn Liang, vice president of Toes Opto-Mechatronics, a subsidiary of Tatung Company, notes that the advantage of Industry 4.0 is not limited to just reducing labor cost, as it also brings more added values. For example, Germany has been eager to promote the cyber physical system (CPS) integration concept which allows firms to use 3D virtual software, motion simulation robots, modules, and other equipment to detect design flaws and interferences. This allows them to preemptively repair weaknesses and increase design efficiency. This is a huge step to shortening the time-to-market process.

Moving towards smart manufacturing requires strong foundation for automation

So how do firms build a smart manufacturing environment that is in line with the spirit of Industry 4.0? Liang believes there are two key foundations – the smart factory equipment maintenance system and automated precision assembly. In particular, automation is the necessary key. To achieve automation, firms need to plan an effective production line and continue to promote smooth workflow and standardization. If there is anything amiss in the preparation, automation may fail easily, resulting in setbacks on the road to Industry 4.0. With nearly 40 years of automation experience under its belt, Toes can help firms with the overall planning, laying a strong foundation for automation.

To allocate the production line with efficiency, the layout of equipment must be carefully considered to prevent badly designed flow that could undermine efficiency in the future. Secondly, a smooth workflow needs to be based on the principle of "line balance," and extra workstations may be needed or flow may have to be diversified according to the bottleneck at each workstation. This can reduce an unnecessary waste of work hours. Standardization can be divided into two categories: procedure standardization and component standardization. The former can avoid negative effects on utilization rates while the latter can prevent equipment malfunction from lowering yields.

When these basics are completed, the next step is to utilize robots, visual control and sensors to move towards the smart automated process. However, many firms who are interested have been deterred by a lack of return on investment (ROI) after evaluating the costs. For example, a firm may spend millions of dollars procuring a robotic arm, only to use it in simple procedures such as picking up and putting down parts. Meanwhile the idle time of the robotic arm is also higher than expected.

Liang believes that to achieve smart automation, firms do not need to spend a lot of money. For example, production lines can use low-cost sensors and motion control systems; and with the help of feature recognition technology for working parts they can smartly achieve smart automation with reasonable ROI to quickly fulfill customers' needs for products of different colors, materials, and types.

Automation combined with software analytics to form Industry 4.0 value chain

Some production lines cannot add extra process steps to handle the entire production process due to a lack of space. This means no matter where the robot is placed, it may only be able to do simple jobs and the true value of this investment will be hidden.

Addressing this type of problem, Toes utilizes the robots' characteristics of flexibility to come up with the idea of placing the conveyer to next work station above the physical space of the robot. With a specially-designed multi-functional claw, the robot can handle multiple tasks such as applying grease and baking at the same time. Once the baking process is completed, the robot can place the product onto the conveyer above its physical space for further processing. This is a creative idea.

Liang says that if we imagine Industry 4.0 as a person, the smart automated movable parts of the equipment are like the arms and legs; the real intelligence comes from data collection and analytics, which may even have to rely on professional systems or algorithms to make smart decisions.

Hence Toes assumes the role of providing smart automated SI solutions, which facilitate utilization rate or quality analysis based on data obtained from the equipment and sent to MES through the CIM interface. The data can further be used for cost analysis in the ERP system. At last, with cloud computing and big data analytics, the data can help firms make smart decisions to achieve the goal of both maximizing the volume of orders and efficiency, and minimizing cost. The value-added services Toes offers have begun to bloom in Taiwan and China. For example, with Toes' help, a China-based traditional manufacturer has reduced the number of labor by nine units per production line while increasing capacity by three-fold. The efficiency is astounding.(Source::Digitimes)

Wen-Jinn Liang, vice president of Toes Opto-Mechatronics, points out the optimization of the panel cutting tool allows it to cut thin glass efficiently. It also sends the cutting data to MES for yield calculation and cutter lifespan prediction. This is a typical application of Industry 4.0.