Automation Today Issue 62: News and Events

News and Events

Industry 4.0 won’t be marked by the number of shiny toys you own.

By Scott Wooldridge, APAC Regional VP, Rockwell Automation

With my background in automation, engineering and energy infrastructure spanning over two decades, there is a current trend I see that having a larger impact on global manufacturing than any other advancements in the last 40 years. The industrial sector finds itself entering an exciting new phase of evolution, an evolution marked by the unlimited potential of smart manufacturing technologies enabled by IoT and supporting government and industry initiatives such as Industry 4.0.

In fact, a recent report commissioned by two of Australia’s leading Industry Growth Centres has calculated that the economic impact of Industry 4.0 will create 80,000 new jobs and over $74 billion in economic value.

At this year’s TechEd Conference, our customers and partners had the benefit of seeing the power of Industry 4.0 in full effect. TechEd is Rockwell Automation’s annual automation conference, bringing together the top minds in the industry to demonstrate cutting-edge technology that will dramatically reshape Australia’s public, commercial and industrial sectors.

The event gave a fascinating insight into Rockwell’s view of the next decade and the role automation will play in evolving the manufacturing space. But amidst all this excitement, I couldn’t help but notice an ongoing misconception surrounding Industry 4.0 and successful business digitisation.

Despite a clear interest and even experimentation with emerging technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) diagnostics and Virtual Reality (VR) training, we’re still not seeing the level of full-scale roll outs of IoT technologies in the industrial sector that we see in other parts of the world.

A culprit for this is that the local market has a strong tendency to move towards the shiniest object, examples like AR or VR, without evaluating its necessity to the business or how to effectively implement such a technology. In many instances, solutions with clear use cases such as deploying analytics addressing predictive maintenance and asset management productivity improvement, that bring with them obvious immediate value are clear missed opportunities. They don’t have the same appeal as the cool toys like AR and VR and hence don’t get the same focus and funding.

The reality is that you need to know the use case you’re trying to solve for a product deployment to be effective. Recent research from LNS Research suggested 16 per cent of global businesses have gone into deployed systems whereas a substantially higher number of business are stuck at a pilot implementation stage. This is backed up by the World Economic Forum who believe most businesses are stuck in “pilot purgatory”. The interest is there, but nobodies committing to rolling out across their business because they haven’t clearly quantified the return on investment.

As an example, If you have a workplace defined by low incident rates and a knowledgeable workforce, there’s potentially not a lot of benefit in investing in a fully equipped virtual training environment. Industry 4.0 should be dictated by need, not the number of shiny toys you own. In my experience many struggle with what the true payback is. What the return of investment is. There are so many avenues to take, business leaders can easily find themselves jumping between what’s here now and what will emerge over the next four to five years with no rhyme or reason.

It can be difficult to quantify the return on investment and get the funding required, and that's why I think the short-term benefit is likely in proven existing use cases that can now be deployed more quickly and cost effectively with better outcomes by using newer IoT platforms and solutions. Analytics examples such as preventative maintenance and asset optimisation solutions that help remove bottlenecks in your production addressing low hanging fruit that likely doesn't need a lot of capital investment are prime examples of easy to justify investments


This is also not to say Australia is a laggard. In many industries including food and beverage as well as mining, Australia has a strong leadership position in the adoption of emerging technologies In my experience, some of the best practices and technology adoption can be found at a local level. 

The key is simply to walk and not run into the many solutions and products attached to industry 4.0. Think about what the business problem is before you rush headfirst into trying the cool new toys available. Develop the stakeholder trust and technical ecosystem with quick wins around proven use cases, do the basics well and build the business from within that. 

Predictive maintenance becomes a reality with IIoT

Rockwell Automation is using digital technology and data to create advanced mining solutions, making the industry safer and more efficient than ever.  A digital transformation continues to spread across the mining industry. So far, it has primarily been the major mining companies that have introduced digital programs to transform their operations.

Rio Tinto and BHP, for example, have set up remote operations centres on both sides of the country that digitally control mine sites thousands of kilometres away.  This transformation will inevitably move through the industry and increasingly impact every mining company, from the mid-tier producers to the emerging explorers.

As Geoff Irvine, Rio Tinto global strategic account manager at Rockwell Automation, explains, the issue of digitisation means a lot of things to different people.  He believes it is a case of finding a specific use case that is going to add value to what each company is trying to achieve.  “And what is important can vary from miner to miner – even with the major miners,” Irvine says.

Using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Rockwell Automation sets out to provide accessible data to workers across all disciplines of mining and associated industries.  Irvine believes data obtained through IIoT digital projects can benefit not only the workers on-site, but also leaders making upper-level business decisions regarding the operation of companies.  Irvine, who spoke to Australian Mining at Rockwell Automation’s TechEd event on the Gold Coast in September, says digitisation provides data that is meaningful to whoever is looking at it, from managers to on-site engineers.  “It is about sharing the intellectual property, the data that has been built up, and communicating the essence of that data in a more general way,” he says.

“A manager doesn’t necessarily want to go down and look at the same information that interests an on-site engineer, but wants to be able to answer ‘what is the target for the day? Have I met it? If not, why didn’t I meet it? And what can I do to stop that from happening next time?’ So that is kind of the rear-vision view.”

As well as sharing data and knowledge, information obtained by using IIoT is useful for process controls engineers, anticipating potential problems before they occur.  Using IIoT to predict what is going to happen next in an industry as variable as mining is paramount to safety, which is a number one priority for mining companies.  “It can help you look forward and predict what is going to happen and that provides a lot of value as well,” Irvine says.

By using virtual and augmented reality, workers can judge the safety of a situation without having to go into potentially dangerous areas of mining sites and compromise their welfare.   “In the electrical area, for example, due to arc faults that can occur in switch rooms, which have a lot of volts and amps coming into them, typically people have to get suited up to go into those rooms because there is a chance an arc flash can occur, which is extremely dangerous,” Irvine says.

“To avoid that, you can use augmented reality to see what is happening inside the switch room and look at the data without having to get suited up and enter the room.”  Augmenting computer-aided design drawings with real-time information to create a composite view of real-life mining situations is one of the most exciting safety solutions to come from implementing IIoT.

“We provide analytics platforms that [make] predictions based on a machine basis on what is going on and whether there is going to be some failures and whether something needs to be done to fix it up,” Irvine says.

In addition to creating a safer working environment, using IIoT makes the supply chain run more smoothly, tracking ore from the pit through to when it is delivered to the boat for shipping and further if required.  “For instance, with iron or coal, in terms of a supply chain, there is a boat coming in at a certain time that you’ve got to meet with a lot of bulk material to fill that ship, and the mine might be 1400 kilometres away from where that boat is,” Irvine says.  “So, synchronising the supply chain to meet demand when those boats come in is a big deal.”

With new digitisation techniques comes new challenges, implementing digital modern programs within existing sites, some of which can be up to 20 years old.  Irvine suggests using as much digital technology as possible from the get-go with fresh greenfield plants and staggering upgrades for existing brownfield plants to lessen interruptions to productivity.  “You can’t go in and rip and replace, otherwise you’re going to have to shut the plant down for a year and nobody wants that,” he says.

“It is best if you can figure out how to do it on a brownfield plant in a much more staged fashion.  “A much better way is to gradually upgrade that plant bit by bit – we do it by embedding people on-site.  “That, overall, is a much cheaper and more viable option than having to rip and replace everything every 20 years. And you’re able to schedule downtime for different systems through carrying out smaller projects.”

Irvine says the key challenge to implementing any change in mining is tackling the inherent variabilities encountered in the mining industry.  “With mining, you’ve got imprecise materials that you are trying to mix up to get a precise product at the end, that is always the challenge,” he says.  “No matter how well you map out the resource before you start mining it, it is never exactly what you think it is going to be, and that works both ways; sometimes you can get yields a lot better than you think you’re going to get.

“Sometimes, it will be a lot worse and you have to adjust to cope with that.”

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