Why You Can’t Ignore (Even If You Try) Industry 4.0...

By: Matthew H. Naitove 8. August 2016

...(Or Why They’re Calling the Upcoming K Show “K 4.0”).


As I wrote last month (see July 21 blog), exhibitors this October’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf, Germany, will be constantly reminding visitors that “Industry 4.0 is coming” or even that it is here already. The term Industry 4.0 refers to what some call the “fourth industrial revolution” or, more specifically, the interconnected, internet-enabled Smart Factory. (See our Sept. ’15 feature for more explanation.)


It’s not just a matter of machine builders jumping on the latest bandwagon or echoing the buzzword of the day. This quote from Arburg of Germany (U.S. office in Rocky Hill, Conn.) sheds light on what’s going on: “Innovative machine manufacturers like Arburg are rebranding themselves as suppliers of flexible production systems for IT-networked production in the ‘smart factory.’”


What 4.0?
If you find yourself walking the aisles of this mammoth show, or even if you only read about it, don’t get confused by the welter of different labels that individual machine suppliers give this new industry direction: Plastics 4.0, Injection 4.0, Wittmann 4.0, Electrified 4.0, Extrusion 4.0, Recycling 4.0, and even Packaging 4.0. They’re all just trying to bring this soaring concept down from 40,000 ft closer to shop-floor level.


K 2016: Are We Seeing Something New Here?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 21. July 2016

I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, believe me. After a while, you think you know pretty much what to expect of them. But every now and then, I leave a show with a feeling that I saw something new happening there.


I remember shows in the Seventies when the microprocessor revolutionized plastics machine controls. There was one in the mid-Eighties when I scratched my head at the sudden explosion of robots everywhere. And some of you may have felt like that at shows in the early Nineties: Where did all those electric injection machines come from?


This October’s K 2016 show gives hints of possibly being one of those. Maybe it will be the next NPE or K after this one that confirms those hints. I don’t want to overstate the impact of a phenomenon that, so far, seems to have gained more traction in Europe than here. I’m talking about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” or “Industry 4.0,” or the “Internet of Things” (IoT).


I find the term, “Smart Factory,” a bit more descriptive of the concept—self-regulating production systems in which smart machines talk to each other and to plant supervisory computers and to maintenance departments, spare-parts databases, and, when necessary, to service departments of machine vendors to diagnose problems.


This has been a low-level buzz in the background of major international shows for a little while now; only a few machine builders made it part of their public agenda. But this K Show is different: Most of the major names in injection presses will be talking about it and how they are preparing for what they foresee as a coming upheaval in manufacturing. They have differing names for it, so keep your ears and eyes open for the “4.0” designation and for the OPC UA open-platform, “universal” communications protocol that will make it possible.


Two Close Up news articles in our upcoming August issue touch on the “4.0” phenomenon and OPC UA. There will be more in our September K Show news preview. (You can also read last September’s feature article on the topic.) Please don’t accuse me of falling head over heels for the latest European fad. I’m just trying to do my job of sniffing out the “next wave” before it washes over us. I could be wrong, but I think the surf’s starting to kick up.


Add Dirt to Your Resin?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 20. July 2016

No, it’s not recommended, but some people do it anyway—inadvertently, through carelessness or lack of training.


I was reminded of this in reading John Bozzelli’s Injection Molding Know-How column in our upcoming August issue (read it here). John’s column is entitled, “Purging: A to Z”, and he makes the valid point that getting all the flow paths in your injection system clean so a new color or material can be introduced without contamination is a job that starts with material handling. It’s a more expansive view of purging than most people have heard before. His point is to prevent contamination throughout the system, all the way back to unloading the truck or railcar.


Thinking about that put me in mind of a lament I heard long ago from a technical-service veteran at a major polyolefin supplier: “We take elaborate procedures to guarantee the quality, consistency, and cleanliness of our materials. But we get service calls from molders who say dirt in our resin clogged up their molds or hot runners. When we investigate how they handle material at their plant, we sometimes find the culprit in the hose and coupling they use to unload a railcar or bulk truck. Believe it or not, at some point before or after unloading, untrained workers let the hose and coupling drop into the dirt. There’s your contamination.”


Engel’s Liquid-Metal Technology Could Be a Hit

By: Matthew H. Naitove 14. July 2016

A technology leader in plastics, the Austrian firm’s collaboration with innovative metal molding firm Liquidmetal is drawing “overwhelming interest.”


At a recent press conference reviewing business trends in 2016, Dr. Peter Neumann, CEO of Engel Austria (U.S. office in York, Pa.) noted the “overwhelming interest” in its new Liquidmetal injection molding technology at the Hannover Fair in Germany in April. This technology utilizes amorphous zirconium alloys developed by Liquidmetal Technologies, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Engel, as its exclusive machinery partner, developed a special 180-ton press modified from its e-motion all-electric platform (see Aug. ’15 Close Up for details).


Engel executives said the market interest is coming especially from medical and consumer electronics that require molding of “very precise, thin, detailed, sophisticated” parts. They noted the good corrosion resistance of the material as one advantage. Other benefits are said to include a unique combination of hardness and elasticity, as well as relatively low specific weight. Engel sources see it as an alternative to powder injection molding (PIM), though they caution that it is aimed at “premium markets” and is a “niche of a niche.” For it to move ahead, they see a need to identify suitable moldmakers.


China’s Appetite for Advanced Molding Technology

By: Matthew H. Naitove 13. July 2016

Do automation and advanced molding technologies still offer U.S. molders safe harbor against low-cost competition?


At its recent pre-K press conference at its headquarters in Schwertberg, Austria, Engel (U.S. office in York, Pa.) reviewed its business outlook as well as its new technology to be presented at the K 2016 fair in Dusseldorf this October (see Close Up story in August).


In reviewing the machinery business, Engel CEO Dr. Peter Neumann made some interesting, and possibly unsettling, observations about technology trends in China. I say “unsettling,” because they challenge assumptions that automation and advanced technology offer U.S. molders safe harbors against competition from low-cost manufacturers in China and elsewhere in Asia.


For one thing, Neumann said his company sees rising demand for automated molding systems and integrated technologies in China. Why is there such a demand in a region notorious for its low labor costs? Although labor costs are rising in China, Neumann said the main reason is the increasing emphasis on high quality in Chinese manufacturing. Automation is rightfully seen as the key to maintaining stable processes and consistent quality.


Second, Neumann said China is active on one of the forefronts of integrated molding automation, known as “Industry 4.0.” This generally refers to a trend for machines to gain intelligence and self-awareness of their own condition and productivity and the ability to communicate their status to other machines and operators. (See our Sept. ’15 feature on the subject.)


I myself have seen more enthusiasm for Industry 4.0 among European machinery OEMs than here in the U.S. So I was surprised to hear Neumann say that the second most active country in the world for developing Industry 4.0 is, you guessed it, China. Again, the reason is probably the Chinese national focus on boosting its reputation for quality in manufacturing.


Third, Engel executives indicated that one of the new, emerging areas of molding technology—high-strength, lightweight composites—is not the exclusive preserve of European, North American, and Japanese molders—at least not for long.


“Similar to Europe, research institutes and material producers in Asia are pushing ahead with innovative composite technologies,” said Dr. Stefan Engleder, chief technical officer. He referred specifically to Korea, and he added that lightweight design is not only a major innovation for automotive manufacturing. The consumer electronics industry is also closely investigating composite materials in order to make their products lighter and thinner. “Thermoplastic fabrics, will, for example, replace magnesium frames in laptops,” Engleder said.


Incidentally, Neumann will be retiring from Engel after the K Show (his 10th at the company), and Engleder will assume the role of CEO.


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