Smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0 which began at Hannover Messe in 2011 as a ‘pioneering German project’ has now gained global traction – thanks in part to groundbreaking work by Bosch. The aim is for connected manufacturing to optimise itself automatically, making it economical to produce customised products in batch sizes even as small as one.
Since 2012, Bosch says it has been systematically leading factories – both its own and those of its customers – into this new industrial age. This commitment is paying off: over the past 10 years, the company has generated more than four billion euros (Rs 33,068 crore) in sales with Industry 4.0. In 2020 alone, Bosch generated sales of more than 700 million euros (Rs 5,786 crore) with connected manufacturing solutions.
Pioneering Industry 4.0
“We recognised the potential of Industry 4.0 early on and are pioneers in this field. Now we’re reaping the rewards,” says Rolf Najork, the member of the Bosch board of management, responsible for industrial technology.
The use of Industry 4.0 in the company’s own plants is also paying off. Bosch is combining intelligent software for production control, monitoring, and logistics planning into a manufacturing platform of its own. This connects to a larger database that simplifies and improves tasks such as AI analyses for fault detection. The roll-out of the new Bosch manufacturing and logistics platform will start at the end of 2021.
“We offer our roughly 240 plants a standardized ‘Industry 4.0 toolbox,’ which can be expanded and deployed as needed,” Najork says. Bosch believes this will save it almost one billion euros over the next five years, following an investment of around 400 million euros. At the digital Hannover Messe (April 12 –16, 2021), Bosch will chart the development of “ten years of Industry 4.0” and showcase the factory of the future: technologically flexible, intelligently connected, ecologically sustainable – and economically successful.
Back in 2011 at Hannover Messe, scientists presented an idea that broke with convention. Rather than have people adapt to machines, they turned things around. The vision here was of products that actively involve themselves in their manufacturing, navigate themselves through the production process, and communicate with humans and machines. It was the birth of Industry 4.0 – Bosch is one of its founding fathers.
In 2012, the company took over the chairmanship of the newly established Industry 4.0 working group to further develop the German government’s high-tech strategy. Bosch became a leading provider and a leading user of Industry 4.0, not only testing this modern form of manufacturing in its own plants, but also bringing proven solutions to the market. The Bosch plants in Blaichach in Germany, Anderson in the U.S., and Wuxi and Suzhou in China were pioneers in this domain.
One thing soon became apparent: “The only way to tap the full potential of Industry 4.0 is collectively and globally. Humans and machines need to ‘speak the same language.’ This requires international, cross-company standards,” Najork says. Bosch worked together with other companies to develop OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), a machine language for Industry 4.0 that standardises access to devices and systems and enables manufacturer-independent data exchange. There was also increased collaboration between organisations such as Plattform Industrie 4.0 and the Industrial Internet Consortium, with Bosch an active leader in both. Alliances became an integral part of Industry 4.0.
Making Industry 4.0 the norm
The interest is still high, but too few companies are consistently gearing up for Industry 4.0: “Pilot projects are a good approach for trying things out and getting ideas out there. Now it’s time to up the tempo: we need to make Industry 4.0 the norm,” Najork says.
Bosch uses its own academies and training courses to train associates for Industry 4.0 and also makes this offering available to customers. Najork is convinced that “Industry 4.0 is not an end in itself. It’s a way to maintain competitiveness. In the future, nothing will be possible without digitalization.”
Bosch says its projects deliver measurable benefit: connected solutions increase productivity by as much as 25 percent, boost machine availability by up to 15 percent, and reduce maintenance costs by as much as 25 percent. “If we want to exploit the potential of Industry 4.0, we have to move away from isolated solutions. Technical systems that work only within their own boundaries inhibit progress,” Najork says.
In Bosch plants, there are now over 120,000 machines and over 250,000 devices such as integrated cameras or robots connected. Some 22,000 machine controllers alone are connected via the Nexeed software for Industry 4.0 developed by Bosch Connected Industry. Founded in 2018, this operating unit has already supplied software to more than half of Bosch’s plants and more than 2,000 production lines. In addition, around 100 international customers rely on Nexeed – including BMW, Sick, and Trumpf. Hardware and software are growing ever closer together.