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3/20/2018 | 2 MINUTE READ

Machinery Gets Smart

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NPE2018 will be awash in Industry 4.0, but beyond the show-floor hype, what does replacing dumb equipment with smart equipment mean?

Plastics Technology’s editors have been fully immersed in all things NPE2018 over the last few weeks, sifting through the show plans of the leading exhibitors as we prepare our special show preview issue. Poring over those releases and reviewing those interviews, one theme has been omnipresent: Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 or a related variation—smart factory, industrial internet, the cloud—hasn’t been mentioned in every release we’ve gotten, but pretty close. New industry trends almost inevitably reach a hype phase with companies claiming at times dubious connections to the buzz du jour (sustainability definitely got there with trade show booths bathed in green), but, if you peel away all the marketing-ese, Industry 4.0 (or whatever you want to call it) will have a real impact at NPE2018 and beyond.

Not everyone agrees what Industry 4.0 really is—market leaders are still pushing towards a common protocol so we don’t get a Betamax/VHS scenario—but at the most basic level, we’re talking about “smart” equipment and that’s good news for processors.

Oblivious Equipment

So what does “smart” mean in this context? Here it might be more useful to think about what “dumb” equipment is, or to be more precise, “oblivious” machinery. Oblivious equipment only knows on or off and on is 100% on and off is 100% off. The nuance of differing levels of operation, based on throughput needs of the moment, or an “off” that’s not totally “off”—think sleep mode, are not possible here.

Neither is awareness of the quality of the “on” phase. The machine is running, but is it running well; is it converting energy into output in the most efficient way? The oblivious machine is just on. If something is going wrong, this equipment is not aware of any error and it’s definitely not thinking about remedies for the problem.

Oblivious equipment is not only not aware of itself beyond the binary on/off, but it’s also unaware of other equipment (including machines that impact its operation) or the people running the plant. Smart equipment, however, is fully aware of its place in the operation and now, or in the very near future, it will communicate with the people and machines around it, working towards the most efficient “on” there can be. That’s the true promise of Industry 4.0.

If you’re heading to NPE to buy new equipment, in virtually all the key categories, you’d be hard pressed to leave Orlando with a purchase order for a dumb product. Talk with exhibitors about the “smart” features of the equipment they’re showing (and get a heads up on those functions with our April preview issue), wade through the Industry 4.0 hype and think about how smart equipment could raise the IQ of your shopfloor.

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