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Challenge of Automation

14 December 2014

The digitisation of production has set in motion a comprehensive change in automation that many experts already refer to as the fourth industrial revolution.

Where today's food industry plants are centrally controlled, future cyber-physical systems will take command and organize production themselves.

Anuga FoodTec visitors can experience how real the convergence of production and enterprise IT already is and the challenges involved for automation between March 24 and 27 2015 in Cologne.

Industry 4.0 will be the buzzword in many booths of this international trade fair for food and beverage industry suppliers.

Almost 200 companies of more than 1,400 Anuga FoodTec 2015 exhibitors will present solutions in the field of automation at the fair. These include, for example, industry giants such as Siemens, Rockwell, B & R, Endress + Hauser, Festo, Mitsubishi or CSB, but also many small and medium-sized companies with special solutions.

After mechanisation with steam power, mass production on assembly lines and digitisation, the fourth industrial revolution is upon us: Industry 4.0.

To ensure that production becomes more flexible and more efficient, machines and products need to communicate with each other like in a social network.

The factory of the future will be intelligent and networked. Machines and workpieces mutate into cyber-physical systems that organise production themselves, thanks to sensors, actuators, and small embedded computers - across company boundaries.

One example of the change in the mindset is robotics. While industrial robots still perform their tasks behind safety barriers, lightweight robots will soon assist humans without a fence and rigid controls.

Let Machines Issue Commands

The autonomously functioning food factory still lies in the distant future. But the advent and popularity of internet technologies and their associated networked machines cannot be halted.

The Internet Protocol IPv6 has laid the foundation for the "Internet of things," where every object could theoretically receive its own IP address.

However, Industry 4.0 means much more than providing machines with IP addresses.

It is about the convergence of production and enterprise IT, the synchronization of industrial processes, and decisions which the machines autonomously make in real time.

Its theoretical foundation is the assumption of an adaptable production which - according to the vision - is freely negotiated between the workpieces and machines.

In the future, autonomous shuttles will inquire directly at the silos whether any raw materials are still available. When their contents start to dwindle, they will automatically order more from the inventory management system.

Building Blocks on Way to Reality

Equipment that is self-organizing is at the heart of Industry 4.0. Its core consists of mechatronic production units - the cyber-physical systems (CPS).

For Prof Dr Wolfgang Wahlster of the German Center for Artificial Intelligence, the departure from the centrally controlled systems prevalent today is so radical that he speaks of a fourth Industrial Revolution.

Others, such as Prof. Dr. Dieter Wegener from Siemens, don't see the Internet of Things as a Big Bang, but as an evolution that will move step by step from vision to reality.

On the way to this goal, today's automation specialists are working on practical things for everyday use. Such as image processing technology.

It can be used to sort muffins according to their browning level or measure salami slices in three dimensions to then permit an optimum stack height of the slices in the packaging.

The down-to-earth part of Industry 4.0 is already a reality: communication from machine to machine (M2M). M2M is about monitoring, controlling and documenting processes.

Even today, plant engineers augment food processing machines with sensors, meters and radio modules. Their data not only help to monitor production and save energy.

They also warn of any pump or motor failure. Because the entire batch must often be discarded when a machine breaks down without notice - and that's expensive.

Insights into Digital Cookbook

The dream of the smart factory is accompanied by a revolution in production technology.

This goes so far that producers are beginning to start thinking about lot size 1 production again.

Researchers all over the world are working on bringing the three-dimensional printing process known as Rapid Prototyping onto a level suitable for food production.

According to media reports, the Italian food manufacturer Barilla is working on dough cartridges that restaurants can use to produce custom pasta for their guests - freshly pressed rather than cooked fresh.

The European research project "PERFORMANCE" indicates the direction we are heading in. Their goal is custom foods adapted to the needs of consumers who have difficulty swallowing.

In early June, Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University unveiled the first 3D printing process for the food industry.

Conceivable are foods that take advantage of new raw material sources for carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

At least this is what Modern Meadow's digital cookbook portends. This US company employs bioprinting to produce meat products that are ethically defensible and climate-friendly.

Future-oriented topics are also addressed in Anuga FoodTec's professional program. The DLG will thus address topical issues in 27 short specialist forums.

This also includes technologies that are at the threshold of research/development and implementation in industrial practice. For example, the implementation of electronic noses and tongues, the subject Industry 4.0, or visions of future uses of plasma technology and ultrasonic equipment, or the subject of 3D printers.

Anuga FoodTec is jointly organised by Koelnmesse GmbH and the German Agricultural Society (DLG).

December 2014


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