Dr Jürgen Hohnhaus, Bystronic’s Head of Development
Dr Hohnhaus, Bystronic recently launched the ByStar Fiber laser cutting system. How much Industry 4.0 is packed into this product?
The ByStar Fiber is Industry 4.0-ready. Our latest fiber laser is based on a completely new control system, enabling the cutting processes on the machine to be measured and analysed using a new sensor technology. This provides us with data that will help us make laser cutting intelligent.
How long has Bystronic been involved in Industry 4.0?
Since 2010. At that time, the term Industry 4.0 had not yet been coined. Back then, we asked ourselves: Which Internet technologies must we integrate into our machines? And what will these technologies enable our customers to achieve in the future?
And what was the conclusion you came to?
The first product that was developed based on these considerations was the Observer. Today, it enables our customers to use their smartphone and tablet to access the status of their cutting and bending machines at any time and regardless of location.
At that time, where did the impetus to become involved in Internet technologies come from?
It was triggered by the fact that everyone was already using smartphones and digital applications in their private life. There was little doubt about the benefits of these solutions. So it was only logical to start thinking about how to transfer these benefits to industrial sheet metal processing.
In the media, Industry 4.0 is currently a much-discussed topic. There are many different interpretations of it. What exactly does Bystronic understand by Industry 4.0?
The goal of Industry 4.0 is the digital penetration of industrial business fields in order to improve the efficiency of production processes. In our case, we are talking about sheet metal processing. People, machines and manufactured parts that are involved in this process all become interlinked. An additional factor apart from this interconnection is artificial intelligence. This allows intelligent networks to be created within which machines will learn and optimise themselves in the future. Humans participate in these networks. This allows them to access information about their machines and parts regardless of time and location, assess situations, and intervene where necessary.
Does this mean that these networks create greater transparency?
Precisely. With Industry 4.0, customers receive more transparency regarding their production processes. They see when and where their orders are being processed and how far their production parts have progressed. Another benefit of Industry 4.0 is increased flexibility. In addition to enabling the production of large series of identical parts, Industry 4.0 allows customers to manufacture small batch sizes in a very short time. In the future, in addition to mass products, this will enable individual parts and small series to be produced at competitive prices. Intelligent system support makes it much simpler to adapt workflows and thus to respond more rapidly to the customers’ requirements.
Industry 4.0 comprises various aspects. Where is Bystronic setting priorities?
I see four areas of focus. The first is automation, which will be augmented with artificial intelligence. The next step is the interconnection of the intelligent machines with the production parts to form a digitally integrated factory, the “smart factory”. The third area is big data. That is, the question of how we can ensure the secure handling and meaningful analysis of data. The fourth topic are new service solutions, which are made possible through the advanced data analysis possibilities.
What opportunities does this open up for the customers’ processes?
In the future, our customers will be able to examine their entire process chain before production begins, for example. Production planning and control systems provide them with support when scheduling jobs and coordinating their resources accordingly. In addition, simulations help them analyse the planned processes before they are carried out.
Is the aim of Industry 4.0 exclusively about building a smart factory, or are selective individual solutions for users also feasible?
With Industry 4.0 we are currently in an evolution process. This means that the development of new solutions is taking place gradually. For the user, the first step is to install machines that are ready for a digital network. This makes it possible to integrate a variety of software solutions, depending on the customer’s requirements. These can be expanded on a step-by-step basis, like pieces of a puzzle, which, when put together, result in the complete picture – the smart factory. An example of a solution that offers an entry to increased process transparency is the Observer.
Where does Industry 4.0 begin for Bystronic customers?
It already begins when our customers prepare an offer for their customers in order to tender for an order. A successful offer requires a lot of know-how. Imagine your company receives an invitation to tender. You have received a sample part or a drawing. Now, what is important is to quickly assess: Which process steps are necessary? How long will it take to manufacture the part? And what price can you offer?
What solutions does Bystronic already offer in order to support customers with the preparation of offers?
Today we are already able to simulate the process costs and manufacturing time of parts. This enables our customers to define the costs for an order in advance, which they can use to prepare the offer. In the future, we want to process this simulation data in digital form in order to subsequently automatically generate an offer. This will make our customers’ offer process even faster.
Okay, let’s assume the customer is awarded the order. What happens next?
The next step is preparing to cut the ordered parts out of a metal sheet as efficiently as possible. Bystronic offers a unique cloud service for this, ByOptimizer, which groups the parts that are to be cut on the metal sheet in space-saving nest and plans the optimal cutting strategy in order to process the parts in as little time as possible. This service is available as a subscription that can be adapted to the customer’s cutting requirements.
Now we are in the middle of the cutting process. What, in terms of laser cutting, is now possible that was not before the advent of Industry 4.0?
For the time being, the actual cutting process will not change, but all the data that is generated during the cutting process on a laser cutting system can now be analysed. It allows customers to see if their machine is working optimally or not. If the cutting quality changes, they can immediately identify the cause. This is a new development.
The customer’s parts have been cut. The next step is bending. What innovations does Bystronic offer here?
We are currently transferring the Detection Eye function, which we have already successfully implemented on our laser cutting systems, to bending. This function recognises the tools in the press brake’s upper beam. It detects whether the operator has selected the correct tools and whether they have been inserted properly. If not, the function displays a message and suggests what corrections the operator must carry out.
Is there a strong demand amongst customers for this function?
Absolutely. Our new system simplifies the operator’s work and prevents errors during the bending process. Already before the bending process begins, this function identifies potential errors and prevents incorrectly bent parts and damaged tools.
Let us look ahead a little. How will Bystronic’s solutions change over the foreseeable future?
In addition to supplying machine tools, we are increasingly transforming into a service provider. This means that we are taking the path towards delivering an intelligent process. The transformation has already started, for example with the ByOptimizer, Observer, and other software solutions. These services complement our customers’ workflows and expand the performance spectrum of our machines.
Will there be radically new types of products in the future?
The greatest potential for new products lies in the field of software. In the future, laser cutting systems will autonomously monitor and control themselves. We have already taken the first step in this direction by making our latest products Industry 4.0-ready. Next, we will introduce intelligent functions into the process by means of software applications.
On which of the customers’ operations will this have the greatest impact?
Their logistics and order management in the back office will experience the greatest changes. Thanks to digital solutions, the workflows in these areas will become more transparent, more predictable, and thus also leaner. This will enable our customers to avoid unnecessary process steps in the future.
To conclude, at EuroBLECH 2016 there will be a strong focus on the topic of Industry 4.0. What can customers expect from Bystronic?
This year at EuroBLECH, Bystronic will unveil something unique that focusses fully on Industry 4.0. We are not talking about isolated solutions: we will present our customers an interlinked, intelligent overall solution for successful sheet metal processing.