Compressed air systems show Industry 4.0 in action
Published: 08 February, 2019
If Industry 4.0 has so much to offer manufacturers, why are so few of them rushing to implement it? Plant & Works Engineering spoke to Carl Sharpe, UK & Ireland sales manager of compressed air specialist BOGE who has some practical, real-life examples to show how its benefits can easily be gained right now.
Commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is a convenient shorthand term for various technologies, which can be combined to create a ‘smart factory’.
In the connected, digital, Industry 4.0 world, machines, computers and people communicate and interact with each other via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). Vast amounts of information – or Big Data – are collected, often via automatic sensors, then shared and subjected to advanced analytics. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, these systems are enabled to understand processes and make decisions.
Many people still seem to see the benefits of smart factories as being largely theoretical, or perhaps even futuristic. In a recent survey of UK manufacturing companies by ERIKS, only 39% appeared to have implemented any form of Industry 4.0 to date. This is despite 80% saying they felt it would be an advantage. A key barrier, as stated by 30% of respondents, was lack of specific knowledge on its specific benefits.
Carl Sharpe, UK & Ireland sales manager of compressed air specialist BOGE comments that Industry 4.0 technology is very real and is being used daily: “Its practical application is easy to demonstrate in relation to existing BOGE systems which already use it. The rewards of Industry 4.0 are real too, including transformational effects on efficiency, reliability and flexibility in individual machines and entire production operations.”
If your progress toward creating a smart factory has been limited, or has not yet started, air compressors are a good place to begin. After all, clean and reliable compressed air is one of the essentials of modern manufacturing.
Networking of machines comes as second nature to a compressed air system provider. All but the very smallest of set-ups require a network of pipes and valves to take air from the compressor installation to the point of use. In addition, there is usually interconnection between compressors. A large fixed-speed unit typically supplies the base-load of air while a smaller variable-speed machine kicks in to deal with peaks in demand. Additional machines in the network may include dryers, filters and storage devices.
Importantly, these components must talk to each other if they are to work together efficiently – for which they need a control system. This makes decisions on which compressors to switch on, for example, and on what adjustments are necessary to meet the user’s requirements while optimising the equipment’s energy consumption, reliability and lifespan.
Even in standard products, the control systems are well-equipped for digital networking. Through integrated fieldbus connections, one machine’s controller can be the master of many other machines. Using a web browser or a mobile app, staff can remotely monitor machine and overall system performance via inbuilt Internet links. Functions such as these make it easier and less expensive to install, configure, operate and maintain a compressed air system.
For larger and more complex installations, Sharpe says BOGE has developed a new generation of networked control systems: airtelligence provis 2.0. These monitor compressed air systems continually and automatically, anticipating changes in demand and autonomously delivering the ideal combination of activity from compressors and other components to handle it.
Fully configurable, airtelligence provis 2.0 takes the specific characteristics of each installation into account. For instance, it can be set to make less use of the older and less efficient compressors, or to align maintenance intervals of different components by varying their running hours.
Data analytics and predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance is the field in which most engineers already see an important role for Industry 4.0 technology. Sharpe explains that many of his customers have taken the option of a secure internet link between their installation and the BOGE central analytics facility in Germany. Measurements of pressures, temperatures, motor speeds and energy consumption are gathered and transmitted at a rate of 70 data points per second.
Analysis using ‘learning’ algorithms helps the system to build an understanding of each site’s normal operating conditions. In the event of a significant variation, a specialist engineer is alerted. If he or she decides there is a problem, the customer is contacted and corrective actions are prescribed. If the change observed is considered unusual but acceptable, the system can be taught to ignore any recurrence of it.
Meanwhile, as the algorithm understanding deepens, it can update parameters within a machine’s own controller. The machine can then alert on-site staff directly to any indication that a problem is developing.
Sharpe highlights one company determined to take full advantage of Industry 4.0 is drinks manufacturer Nordbrand Nordhausen, whose operation is totally automated. When replacing its entire compressed air network, to future-proof against changing business demands and food industry regulations, this customer took the opportunity to upgrade to airtelligence provis 2.0 control too.
Supply of 100% Class O oil-free compressed air was vital. This was achieved with totally oil-free compressors linked to ultra-clean stainless-steel piping whose joints were assembled using grease-free connectors. Three frequency-controlled type SF 60 BLUEKAT catalytic compressors supply the air. For extra confidence, they feature catalytic converters, which prevent contamination of the compressed air supply by atmospheric hydrocarbons, from nearby lorry exhaust fumes for example.
Compressed air is used at the Nordbrand Nordhausen plant for bottling processes and for a variety of other pneumatic-powered equipment. The previous installation had regularly experienced trouble in coping with peaks in volume demand.
The airtelligence provis 2.0 compressed air management system now independently determines the company’s total network volume and trends. Any sudden rise in compressed air consumption is intelligently countered with automatic initiation of compressors before the demand peak is reached.
Information including volume data, energy calculations, maintenance periods and oil content measurements is gathered by the intelligent control system and forwarded to relevant work stations. There it can be accessed via state-of-the-art communications tools.
Sharpe says that it should be clear by now that Industry 4.0 can be easily and practically introduced to compressed air system installations: “Everything described here is a field-proven solution, not an experiment, and is benefiting customers day after day. By reducing energy usage and enhancing maintenance operations, these advances bring about ongoing savings and a fast return on investment.
“Industry 4.0 is also a key to future-proofing customers’ investments and operations. Once a compressed air system is installed, BOGE can – if requested – continuously gather operating data and use its simulation tools to evaluate whether maximum efficiency is being achieved.
He concludes: “The resulting reports can be used to assess what improvement would be achieved using a different system design, configuration or component. Development of new and improved components continues, and again the impact of each alternative option can be simulated and assessed. A further option now available is to create customised components if assessments show that further changes will have significant effects.”