The Ingenuity of Industry 4.0
Mitsubishi Electric Europe on automotive manufacturing: A Q&A
In the opinion of Klaus Petersen, the importance of digital transformation mustn’t be understated. Speaking to Mitsubishi Electric Europe’s Marketing Director of Factory Automation, we find out why
Industry 4.0 and connected manufacturing alike are concepts that are readily referred to as the future of heavy industry. However, as we move through 2019, many of these terms are becoming more of a reality.
Recent forecasts, for example, have predicted that the smart factory market is already valued at $153.7 billion, while it is expected to grow at a rate of roughly 9.76 percent per year for the next five years, propelled by IoT developments, new technologies, industrial robotics and much, much more.
One individual all too familiar with such statistics is Klaus Petersen. A former specialist quality engineer, working at BMW’s Research and Innovation Centre in Munich, Petersen now stands as the Marketing Director of Factory Automation EMEA for Mitsubishi Electric Europe BV, responsible for the expansion of the company’s industrial automation business.
Speaking with Petersen, we discovered what to expect from the fast-moving and increasingly technologically-enabled sphere of automotive manufacturing.
EME Outlook (EMEO): Could you firstly provide a brief overview of Mitsubishi Electric Europe itself?
Klaus Petersen (KP): Mitsubishi Electric Europe has been a driving force in industrial automation technology in Europe for more than 40 years. The brand is synonymous with innovative, high-quality industrial automation solutions for almost every sector. In the automotive industry, for example, our guided operator solutions for picking processes are supporting digitalisation and improving quality by helping operators ensure they use the right parts and take the correct actions.
With all sectors of industry looking to increase productivity and reduce downtime, we are providing a variety of predictive maintenance solutions, from industrial controllers and edge computing, through to SCADA and right up to cloud connection.
EMEO: How is Mitsubishi Electric enabling its automotive customers to boost their manufacturing efficiencies?
KP: The key for any industry going forwards is the digital transformation of the business, and the automotive sector is no different. In this context we are supporting our customers not simply with automation technologies but with support in further developing their vision. This builds on our [email protected] ctory concept, offering innovative solutions for industrial automation and information technology. This includes systems to meet the needs of data collection, handling and management – from filtering, control, analysis, trends and visualisation, right up to cloud connectivity.
EMEO: Are there any key investments or processes that you wish to speak of on this front?
KP: The requirements of today’s enterprises are now often so complex that one company alone can no longer represent this. That’s why we founded our partner network, the [email protected] Alliance – an integral part under the [email protected] umbrella with over 300 members worldwide. The global network includes manufacturers of industrial components as well as specialised system integrators and software providers. These partner companies collaborate at an individual level to offer flexible, optimised technologies and solutions for various customer requirements.
EMEO: How have these technologies evolved across the automotive manufacturing industry in recent years?
KP: The degree of customisation within automotive production has seen
manufacturing systems move beyond discrete automation to increasingly intelligent automation solutions within a networked digital production environment. This is where we begin talking about ‘smart factories’. Increasingly, the technologies involved to make the digital factory a reality are beyond the scope of any single automation equipment supplier and require the seamless integration of advanced technologies from a number of different suppliers. Hence the [email protected] Alliance, which combines the expertise of multiple technology partners.
It’s an approach that we have been following for 15 years. Adaptable and scalable solutions mean automotive companies can start small or begin in individual sections of the plant, and build from there, step by step. Companies can see the ‘quick wins’ from their investments and build the business case for ongoing investment to a full smart factory.
EMEO: In your view, how extensive will the transformative effects of industry 4.0 become in relation to the automotive industry?
The automotive industry is one of the sectors at the forefront of innovation and industry 4.0, having seen early on the need for processes which would enable increased product customisation and would manage increasingly complex supply chains. The result was that as early as 2000,
even though the terms hadn’t been coined, they were already moving towards what we would now describe as digitalisation of their plants and the building of digital twins.
That transformation is continuing at a pace, with huge interest in the digitalisation of production processes to reap potentially significant cost savings. A good example is the simulation of the assembly process for new car models and series. There are still so many possibilities for digitalisation that we’ll be talking about the transformative effects of industry 4.0 in the automotive sector probably for 10 years to come. But that is why it’s so important to have a digitalisation strategy – to implement what makes sense, what is genuinely helpful and what will deliver real return on investment over a defined timescale.
EMEO: Looking ahead, how can Mitsubishi Electric help its automotive customers to continue to maximise their productive potential and remain ahead of the curve?
KP: Without doubt artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly important role in the digital factory, across all sectors of industry. It’s a core technology for Mitsubishi Electric, and you’ll find it across solutions such as vision systems, controllers and more. We see AI’s learning and process optimisation capabilities as offering huge potential in automotive production.
Big data analysis is another important area that we are focused on and where AI is also increasingly being used. We are currently developing a solution featuring AI functionality for applications in the area of edge computing that will serve the need for real-time data analysis on the plant floor, with a typical application being predictive maintenance. Using an appropriate sensor technology, for example, different machine states could be recorded in real time to recognise the current machine status, detect potential faults on the horizon, and immediately offer recommendations for actions to the machine operator – or even initiate remedial actions autonomously.
Due to the importance of artificial intelligence for our company, we have said that we want to position our developments in the field of AI as its own brand, Maisart (Mitsubishi Electric’s AI creates the state-of-theart in technology). Thus, this puts the emphasis on the fact that Mitsubishi Electric is strategically active in this field.
“Without doubt artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly important role in the digital factory, across all sectors of industry”