An overdue wake-up call – but where are the actual applications?
PROCAD on Industrie 4.0
For this article, Ulrich Sendler interviewed Volker Wawer and Raimund Schlotmann, Managing Directors of PROCAD. PROCAD develops and sells software tools for the industry: PRO.FILE as the Product Data Backbone for product data management (PDM) and document management (DMS); PRO.CEED for the management of development, manufacturing and service processes; PROOM for the management and exchange of large data sets in the cloud.
PROCAD has been headquartered in Karlsruhe, Germany since its foundation in 1985. The company's German offices are located in Essen, Hamburg, Munich, and Nuremberg, with additional offices in Switzerland and the United States. PROCAD has teamed up with dedicated partners to serve some 900 customers with more than 90,000 users in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. It currently has 120 employees.
PROCAD considers Industry 4.0 an overdue wake-up call for the German industry and its systems and software providers that leaves no doubt that Germany will have to undertake a major effort to remain a competitive business location. But as a vendor whose customers come from all walks of the manufacturing industry, PROCAD currently sees Industry 4.0 as too much of an academic debate that lacks real-world applications. That is why it focuses on helping customers streamline and integrate their processes. A field that – even apart from Industry 4.0 – still has a long way to go.
Multi-disciplinary systems call for different approaches in development and manufacturing
PROCAD's answer to the question as to the role of the Project of the Future: Industry 4.0 in Germany's industry is clear: "Industry 4.0 is crucial to Germany's economy," says Raimund Schlotmann. "Change won't come overnight, but as a prime business location, we need to get an early start and contribute our part." He goes on to point out: "Our industry needs to try and set the tone and take on a leading role. Otherwise, some of them run the risk of being left behind. After all, other countries' industries aren't asleep at the wheel."
He said that anybody looking at the past decades would see that time and time again, large companies that had seemed unbeatable market leaders hit a brick wall or were taken over without so much as a warning because they had been too slow to see the signs of the times or to respond to them. Telecommunications is one example, as are consumer electronics, shipbuilding, and also the software industry, which boasted a number of rather successful German CAD vendors only 25 years ago.
And now we are talking about a development that has been coined the fourth industrial revolution. As PROCAD sees it, the most important thing about it is that the products are growing ever more complex and require interdisciplinary collaboration because in addition to mechanical and electrical work, they increasingly involve electronics design and embedded software and now even have their own IP addresses to ensure connectivity to the Internet. PROCAD considers being able to deal with this complexity at the speed the market demands one of the biggest challenges facing its customers.
The complexity of current and, even more so, future products makes it important to think in systems, that is, to employ the methodologies of systems engineering in mechanical engineering and other industries as well. "To achieve this," Waver goes on "companies need to make sure that their multidisciplinary data is managed and linked in a common data repository. Which is the case with very few of them." Many companies have changed little in the way they build their machinery, plants, and vehicles. They usually start with the mechanics and geometry and add other elements along the way and take their time to think about which functionalities can be programmed. There seldom is an architecture, a design for the entire system. A fundamental rethink seems inevitable.
The vendor of software tools for managing engineering processes and the data involved is astounded at the amount of discussion surrounding Industry 4.0 and at how little the industry and most of all small and medium businesses actually think about the requirements that must be met. Volker Wawer: "The first step is IT-enabled data management that includes all cross-departmental data starting with the development phase. We have seen this with very few customers. The second step is to penetrate all processes to build a common data foundation across development, production planning, manufacturing, assembly, and maintenance. This has been done to some extent and in pilot installations, but you seldom find it applied in day-to-day operations."
Integration and autonomization – the sky is the limit, but what do you really need?
On the other hand, PROCAD also believes that a lot of the things that are now being touted as revolutionary innovations have already been brought underway. "Assigning IP addresses to more and more systems, integrating them, and making them more autonomous is an enhanced way of tapping technological capabilities, but is in no way something fundamentally new," says Raimund Schlotmann. Systems that are able to communicate their current status to other systems, for example in order to trigger replenishment, are already a reality, if not to the extent the current discussion would like it to be. The main concern should be to define actual practical applications in the spirit of Industry 4.0 and to implement them with the technical capabilities that are available.
Volker Wawer can think of many things that would mean shorter lead times and lower costs for the industry: "If a tool in a machining center is defective or missing, it would naturally be a great improvement, if the machining center would not require human intervention to let the hacksaw know that it is unable to process any more workpieces. Today, you need someone sitting at the control station to keep an eye on things and ensure appropriate measures are taken. A lot of the responsibilities the control center has today can be automated and accelerated through integration." The main problem, however, is that there are too many possibilities and too few real-world examples to convince potential users.
On the contrary, some of the examples cited for a smart factory are rather pointless and products of the imagination of people who apparently had little contact with the manufacturing industry. One example is workpieces that are pushed into a hall where they choose a machine on which they initiate a processing step on themselves, which is considered sheer nonsense by PROCAD's Managing Director.
PROCAD also considers the fact that Industry 4.0 focuses almost exclusively on production processes and factories but almost never looks at the product itself a mistake. Volker Wawer: "The industry does not produce for production's sake, but to sell the products that the market demands or to provide services based on these products. Industry 4.0 starts with the development of these products that are currently undergoing such fundamental changes and turning into the systems of systems. It does not start with their production."
Before taking up his position at PROCAD, Raimund Schlotmann gained experience working with cloud-based software-as-as-service (SaaS) solutions and between 2000 and 2006 helped establish a service provider for supplier relationship management (SRM) – long before the cloud computing hype. He thinks it is crucial to pinpoint those applications of a new technology that will bring significant and irrefutable benefits to the customer. "We are not evangelists trying to preach to their customers." And to him, those specific "killer applications" that will impact the market have not yet been defined in the case of Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 needs a clear definition
Volker Wawer read the final report, "Recommendations for the Project of the Future: Industry 4.0 – Securing Germany's Future as a Production Location", prepared by the Industry 4.0 Working Group of the National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) for the German government. He considers it too academic and most of all too complicated. "It's like someone tried to fit every bit of information that could be possibly related to it into this paper. A single sentence is sometimes so long that by the time you reach the end, you have forgotten how it started." The paper has 116 pages. But as Wawer sees it, it lacks a concise, unambiguous statement that gives everyone a clear understanding of what Industry 4.0 really is.
PROCAD hopes that the working groups set up by Platform Industry 4.0, an initiative by German industry associations BITKOM, VDMA, and ZVEI, will arrive at a more concrete definition and most importantly at a description of practical applications. As long as this is not the case, PROCAD will continue to develop software solutions that help its industrial customers optimize their processes through the product lifecycle and the associated document management system. The goal is to optimize their processes in a way that will allow them to make the transition to Industry 4.0.
One example is PROCAD's new product PRO.CEED that was developed with project and process management functionality in mind. Raimund Schlotmann explains: "PRO.FILE gives our customers the ability to manage and control their data across the entire lifecycle. In order to use this as a basis to bring their processes to the state of the art and to implement true product lifecycle management, we now provide them with templates. This approach takes the best practices we see in a variety of fields and turns them into templates that our customers can use for their own processes. So far, the feedback has been very positive."
By realizing the process approach by means of easily implementable process templates, PROCAD makes it easier for small and medium businesses to create IT-enabled PLM processes without having to embark on lengthy implementation projects. Volker Wawer also views the integration and end-to-end support of all value-creating processes as an opportunity to explore and tap the potential of Industry 4.0: "If I know how much time and money manufacturers or their customers can save on maintenance because the analysis of sensor data has allowed them to anticipate the impending failure of a product or, even worse, of a plant, enabling their service personnel to do their job before the failure occurs, I will seriously consider modifying my products and production facilities accordingly." To him, predictive maintenance is an interesting and early application in the sense of Industry 4.0. He also expects that the integration of production and support processes with the product development process will allow companies to identify and pursue potential production and maintenance related improvements already during development.
So in conclusion, a lot of the progress expected from Industry 4.0 is already feasible. Like the direct integration of product development data with production and maintenance processes. It just needs to be done.