Smart thinking: Integrating innovation to realise Industry 4.0
04 August 2020
Aerospace supplier JPB Système was one of the first in France to establish and run an Industry 4.0 production process. More recently, the company diversified its technology proposition to offer a disruptive solution that tracks the performance of manufacturing equipment to improve all-round production efficiency. Here, Jocelyn Vecchio, Director of Engineering and Innovation at JPB Système, looks at recent changes and challenges, as well as why a fully connected factory floor is the way forward.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed within the aerospace manufacturing industry in recent times?
The industry has experienced massive changes in recent years. Today’s market is more global than ever, but aerospace manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented pressure, with the demand for aircraft units ramping up and the margins to invest in new technologies declining due to high international competition. On the top of this, an ever-present challenge for manufacturers is to boost efficiencies and reduce the costs of their production processes. This directly affects both the flexibility and the price ranges of the supply chain as manufacturers have access to providers from across the globe.
It sounds like you speak from experience – what are some of the challenges you’re currently facing at JPB Système?
From our own perspective and, since its creation over a quarter of a century ago, our company has seen a great deal of change – especially when it comes to our customers’ expectations. Not only are they focused on product quality, but they also demand fast delivery times, and supply chain flexibility. Naturally, they are seeking innovative, ground-breaking solutions that can be developed and certified quickly in order to help them operate at a global level.
As any business guru will likely attest, rarely do companies enjoy long term profitable growth without having first undertaken some strategic planning for the future. This is certainly the case with our own business and is why we recently decided to completely revolutionise our production operations and set ourselves on the path to the industry of the future and Industry 4.0
Can you tell us more about what that means for your production operations?
Like any business, especially a French company competing within the global arena, we want to be as efficient as possible. In order to ensure this, we realised that we needed to be able to identify areas of inefficiency and apply the appropriate corrective action where necessary.
This saw us recently take the decision to create a more automated and connected manufacturing plant. Human resources will always be central to our production, but we have worked hard to set up a smartly connected facility, incorporating automated production processes and robots, enabling real-time data collection, as well as remote monitoring from different smart devices.
Right now, I don’t believe that there are many companies that are doing this. That’s to say installing the latest technology to bring about completely automated in-line production, where the machines can measure the part, make their own corrections, or even change tools – all the time ensuring the product adheres to the necessary quality requirements.
Sounds impressive – how does it work exactly?
Essentially, it centres around an innovative manufacturing execution system (MES), which enables us to connect, track and measure the effectiveness of all elements of the manufacturing process. Using an advanced IoT that relies on AI and machine learning, we’re able to monitor the performance of our software, machinery and associated applications.
As part of this, we have created a wireless sensor device that affixes to manufacturing machinery to detect vibrations and sounds. This provides an immediate status on the machines’ performance and delivers vital information from the production floor. Unlike similar solutions on the market, ours is non-invasive in that it doesn’t require connection of physical cables or wiring to machines in order to obtain production data. This obtrusion is a necessity with alternative solutions that also require a specialist engineer to stop machines for several hours in order to acquire the necessary data. This immediately impacts manufacturing uptime and threatens throughput which can quickly rack up costs.
How specifically does this help the efficiency of your manufacturing operations?
The ability to connect, monitor and gauge the performance of the entire factory floor offers an invaluable advantage when it comes to knowing how your operations are performing. Indeed, from our own standpoint, the ability to see this complete picture has given us a true indication as to what’s going on and has enabled us to improve data analysis like OEE, and automate cycles counts and better determine the root causes of any losses in machine performance.
Instead of keeping this entirely for yourselves, you’ve diversified your solutions portfolio to develop the same technology for your customers?
That’s correct – the same technology that I have described was unveiled at a tradeshow last year and is currently being fine-tuned across several early adopter sites. Known as KEYPROD, customer trials are going very well and we expect to be on track for full commercial launch early next year.
Sounds good – we look forward to hearing more about that in due course. What role do such systems play insofar as leveraging the Industry 4.0 concept?
Personally, I think that for any manufacturing company seeking to empower itself and properly embrace both intelligent manufacturing and the wider Industry 4.0 revolution, such systems will be indispensable. In fact, underscoring this point, a recent study* showed that manufacturing plants can witness up to a 15% drop in unplanned downtime when equipment data is captured and analysed.
To some extent, this take place naturally. Again, from our perspective, the current generation of younger engineers and potential employees we are seeing are already accustomed to those technologies like robotics, AI and 3D printing that underpin the Industry 4.0 concept. To them, it’s already becoming the norm, or to put it another way, the future is already here.
*Source: IoT & Analytics report, by Aberdeen Group, August 2017