“Industry 4.0 must benefit the end user”

Dr Jan Stefan Michels, Head of Standard and Technology Development, explains how Weidmüller is currently pushing intelligent networking of production – both at a technological and a personal level.


WIN! Industry 4.0 is considered the key to making manufacturing companies more efficient and flexible in future. Which of the current solutions is Weidmüller using to support the conversion to the factory of the future?

Michels: The classic automation pyramid with central control will no longer exist in Industry 4.0. With the goal of extremely versatile production facilities, it is being replaced by networks of intelligent automation components interacting with each other. For the Smart Factory of tomorrow, therefore, we create Industrial Connectivity solutions on the basis of the latest information and communication technologies. Such as our network-capable ACT20C signal converters, for example, which convert analogue machine data into digital values and make them available in the network, thus acting as flexible providers of information in the context of production processes. Also based on this is one of our latest developments – the first communication-enabled current monitor station.

WIN! What is this further development? And which further steps will follow?

Michels: Our current monitor station, consisting of communication-enabled signal converters and current transformers, allows precise current measurements and provides comprehensive status information over Ethernet. This enables preventive maintenance strategies on the basis of early error detection and detailed fault analyses. In the next step, there are also suitable maintenance software solutions that enable the measurement and control of power consumption, efficiency or process quality. We are also introducing further automation devices in network structures in order to further expand the possibilities of condition monitoring and diagnostics to this end. At this year's Hannover Messe we are showing our visitors a fully networked machine in a live application.

Dr Jan Stefan Michels is Weidmüller's Head of Standard and Technology Development and so at the heart of the move towards the Smart Factory. His many tasks include representing Weidmüller in the Systems Aspects Working Group and in ZVEl's senior management of Industry 4.0 (ZVEl = Zentralverband Elektrotechnik- und Elektronikindustrie e.V.= German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association) as well as on the Industry 4.0 Platform.

WIN! The networking of interacting components goes hand-in-hand with data exchange and autonomous control. How does Weidmüller guarantee secure and reliable connections for this?

Michels:Our industrial security router with VPN technology, for example, creates secure communication paths. It ensures that different communication networks harmonise smoothly and under the strictest security standards. We support the interpretation of the data transmitted with the aid of OPC UA. Not only is the industrial M2M (Machine-to-Machine) communication protocol used for the transport of values, but makes machine readable information out of the process data. One example is the transmission of measured temperature values. Whereas previous systems only transfer the data “30”, specifications such as OPC UA give a meaning to it. The additional information that this is a temperature value in a specific unit and format enables the “30” to be interpreted directly and intelligently processed.

WIN! Which customers are currently working with Weidmüller in adopting new approaches towards Industry 4.0?

Michels: Basically, customers of any size and industry who already rely on early condition monitoring today. This can be within a production cell, but also within network structures. Especially the industrial zones related to power, smart grids and process industry, but also specific production areas, such as the automotive sector, are already highly advanced in this regard. Wind power installations, for instance, are a typical application field for our new current monitor station. Here, it is vital that motor or brake overloads or anomalies are identified at an early stage and that operators respond to poor performance in cooling fans or rotor blade de-icing systems in a timely fashion.

WIN! Finding solutions for Industry 4.0 requires far-sightedness. How does Weidmüller manage to approach its customers' future requirements today?

 Intelligent networking of production – both at a technological and a personal – prepares the way for the fourth industrial revolution

Intelligent networking of production – both at a technological and a personal – prepares the way for the fourth industrial revolution

Michels: Our developments are continually developed on the basis of specific customer requirements, because at the end of the day Industry 4.0 must lead to a benefit for the end user. One particular advantage is that we ourselves are a manufacturing company which places demands on ever more flexible and efficient production.

Thus, we also create high transparency regarding the power consumption in our own production, and exploit the optimisation potential derived from this. Our underlying solution, consisting of measuring equipment and controlling software for the networking and processing of information, is based on many years of experience from which our customers can also benefit directly today. As part of our so-called “transparent

factory”, we provide insights into the possibilities of predictive power monitoring and are open to co-operation.

WIN! The fact that Weidmüller opens its own factory to interested partners testifies to close networking at a personal level. In which other co-operations is Weidmüller actively involved for promoting Industry 4.0?

Michels: Our commitment in the context of Industry 4.0 is characterised by diverse association activities as well as participation in joint technology projects, such as within the framework of the Industry 4.0 Platform, a recently founded initiative of the Federal Ministries of Economy and Energy as well as for Education and Research. A topical example is the implementation of an infrastructure box for the distribution of power, signals and data in future modular Industry 4.0 systems while taking the highest requirements of data security into account. We are implementing this project in the consortium of the SmartFactoryKL, a technological initiative of the Technische Universität Kaiserslautern. Weidmüller is building the box in cooperation with Belden/Hirschmann. The plug-and-play capability, the accuracy of fit for a wide variety of system topologies and the integral power measurement by means of our components makes the infrastructure solution flexible and transparent – so it exactly matches the core requirements to which Industry 4.0 responds.

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Published in April 2015