Manufacturers have been talking about Industry 4.0, or the next industrial revolution, for some time now. It’s an important concept, because it will dictate how to stay competitive, but few actually have a good idea of what it means. Especially in extrusion, and other industrial processes typcially under-served by technology, where advanced control systems have not been commonplace like in Oil & Gas, Aviation, and Power.

Industry 4.0 is simple: It’s leveraging data and technology to make better decisions, faster. It’s taking the principles of Kaizen, Continuous Improvement, Lean Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, etc and making them constant and automatic. Engineers will make more improvements and innovations by using the data that’s available everywhere.

How critical is it to enable your engineers to make more improvements?

Of manufacturers surveyed at the 2016 Hannover Messe:

  • 84% said Industry 4.0 will have a lasting impact on their work
  • 69% say it will give them a competitive edge

From a poll Accenture conducted among manufacturers:

  • 73% said they are investing 20%+ of their IT budget on big data solutions
  • Estimated boost in productivity by 30%
  • Predictions on data sets will reduce cost of maintenance by 30% and of breakdowns by 70%

McKinsey also predicts that potential gains from IoT (Internet of Things) in manufacturing include:

  • 45-55% increase of productivity in technical professions through automation of knowledge work
  • 30-50% reduction of total machine downtime
  • Time to market and iteration decreased by 20-50%
  • Cost of quality reduced by 10-20%

Estimates are important, but the most profound change will come with the release of expertise from individuals to organizations, which will compound the rate of innovation and allow everyone to benefit from each other’s experience. Data provides traceability, an immediate feedback loop, and the breaking of silos of human knowledge. Improvements take hold exponentially faster, and an organization can promote a culture of collaboration and critical thinking forever.

Extrusion is one process that has been desperate for better access to operational data. Industries served heavily by the plastic extrusion process – packaging, medical tubing, pipe, and cable, among others – are taking notice. How critical is data for extrusion? Industry expert Chris Rauwendaal described it frankly when he said, “DO NOT extrude without a Data Acquisition System!” He went on to explain that good instrumentation, and a platform to collect the data from those instruments, is critical for process control and troubleshooting. Without them, extrusion will eventually succumb to rising costs of maintenance, quality, and service to their customers relative to those who use them.

In specific, trend plots (data over time) should be recorded at all times for most metrics. The plastic melt temperatures, melt pressure, and extruder motor load are the most important vital signs, followed by screw speed, the power consumption of the heaters, all other extruder temperatures, and the cooling rate of the compound. Bob Bessemer of Conair explained the importance of recording plastic blending metrics, in order to show throughput, volume, and to control for the many variables living in the early of the extrusion process. The pressing question of today is: why don’t we see analytics platforms tracking extrusion processes everywhere in the industry? Statistical Process Control systems and trend plots have been around for 30 years, so why do engineers feel like they don’t have the time to use data every day? Why isn’t there constant investment in new analytics technology? The traditional barriers in extrusion have been (and often continue to be):

  • Disparate data sources
  • Legacy equipment
  • Data rich, insight poor, analytics

Those barriers are now myths. In the last 3 years, advances in technology have made complete, easy-to-use data accessible for all manufacturers – especially in extrusion where the potential is so high with so many variables to track. Computing costs have plummeted, Wifi is now everywhere, and the cloud allows for unlimited, secure data storage. Oden has put those three together so manufacturers (and extruders) can gather data automatically from all of their legacy equipment, and see any metric from any time easily.

It doesn’t have to be hard—the entire extrusion process can now be recorded and used by engineers to make improvements in the blink of an eye. No headaches, just improvements.