Echkard Wernich, Product Management Solutions Europe at SATO Europe, analyses how Industry 4.0 is shaping the manufacturing of today, tomorrow and the future

Industry 4.0 is a major turning point for business, a process of digitising operations in a combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT) and interconnected robotics to transform the manufacturing industry into a proactive system. This predictive intelligence means those that adopt Industry 4.0 technologies can easily streamline and optimise their operations with new quick and efficient methods.

For instance, manufacturers can identify an issue before any potential downtime, by understanding why there is a delay in their supply chain. They can reduce picking time in warehouses by using artificial intelligence (AI) to calculate the best route to the stock, and can reduce costs by enabling robots or drones to move goods around warehouses. Even augmented reality can play a part in Industry 4.0, where pickers wear a wireless headset that delivers information through a transparent display. Here, an integrated camera can capture serial and lot ID numbers for real-time stock tracking, decreasing error rates.

Exploring Industrial IoT

Today, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is a major part of Industrial IoT. Easily placed on equipment, RFID sensors and tags are used as part of asset management for track and trace

Using modern and state-of-the-art RFID-enabled printers is another way Industry 4.0 is shaping the manufacturing industry. A Dutch company, which specialises in stainless steel plate cutting, wanted to deliver accurate pallet registration and automatic location and load control. Using an RFID-enabled track and trace solution would be able to provide them with an up-to-date overview of its logistical operations.

To do this, the company used an RFID printer to attach RFID tags to its equipment, in combination with a track and trace application, which linked into its existing warehouse management system. By using a radio frequency analysing function it could automatically move the equipment’s RFID antenna to measure RFID tags, determining the conditions to consistently read and write. Now, operators can visualise where and when a pallet has been picked up and dropped off with great accuracy.

The bigger picture

Alongside RFID, cloud printing is a big part of the Industry 4.0 movement. By incorporating powerful on-board intelligence into label printer technology, manufacturers can easily simplify their labelling processes, while reducing costs. With cloud technology, printers can independently share bidirectional data with various services, perform actions autonomously and connect to the Internet without needing other devices. Printers can discover, share, process and retrieve data autonomously from an internal database or through a smart or cloud network, such as LAN or Wi-Fi, to keep track of shipments and parts.

One automotive manufacturer had five printers connected to a cloud server with automatic load balancing. Yet, since the server was sending unspecified information, one printer could easily cause a bottleneck and require manual intervention. As an expert in auto-ID solutions, SATO recommended the manufacturer should use the CLNX Plus series printer with Application Enabled Printing (AEP) to enable continuous communication. After the label is printed, there is a two second delay for the printer to relay a ‘ready’ message to the system, avoiding a bottleneck between printers, ensuring a chain of command for an efficient flow of information that reduces long-term costs.

Even eliminating the likelihood of duplicate or unprinted labels after an interruption to the print process enables manufacturers to reduce potential business downtime. In collaboration with one of its partners, SATO developed a new application that uses AEP to improve efficiency and reduce labelling errors through a bi-directional PJL, which controls the delivery of data to its printers. Only through processes like these can we realise the power that lies within Industry 4.0.

Looking to the future

With the continuous advancements in technology through organisations like the RFID Rain Alliance, MAKE UK, Manufacturing USA and more, Industry 4.0 is about utilising the knowledge we have now and empowering individuals to create the manufacturing technology that is ready for the future. At SATO, we are using this knowledge to inspire change and deliver ceaseless creativity. If Industry 4.0 is all about digitisation and automation, we want to be ahead of that curve both now and in the future.