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Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 | © smart-TEC GmbH & Co. KG

The term Industry 4.0 is derived from the major changes in industrial history. Industry 4.0 is regarded in this context as the fourth major technological revolution. The timeline begins back at the end of the 18th century, with the discovery of hydropower and steam power (1st revolution). At the start of the 20th century came conveyor belts and mass production (2nd revolution), with the digital age arriving in the 1970s (3rd revolution). Industry 4.0 describes the fourth major sea change for industry. Digitisation makes it possible: a cross-industry, cross-technology integration of processes and systems that links everything together - production, services, logistics, staffing and resources planning. The real and virtual worlds are becoming increasingly fused.

The concept of the digital factory is essentially based on four principles: technical support, automated decisions, information transparency and complete networking. Especially when it comes to networking machinery, equipment, mobile goods and people, both RFID and NFC can be termed key technologies. As a result, smart-TEC with its expertise in both of these product fields is making a crucial contribution to the smart factory of the future.

RFID: Data for industry 4.0 comes from sensor information

One of the fundamental aspects of Industry 4.0 functionalities is the data transferred using RFID technology. Using this tried-and-tested technology, not only is it possible to transfer information and localise objects, but it is also possible to establish a globally unique object identification system. Although until recently the use of RFID was still restricted to discrete production, the approach is now moving into a growing number of processes and industries. As a consequence of the growing demand for automation, RFID technology is gaining a new tail wind. The reason? Industry 4.0 requires the digital identification of workpieces, tools, containers, machinery and equipment. These objects also need to be able to exchange information with each other. There are RFID solutions available for virtually every range of distance. The RFID transponder can also remain on a product, thereby providing traceability - an asset that is currently very much in demand in the production and process industry. With the aid of RFID transponders, up-to-date machine data can be read out and then automated status messages sent to defined recipients. Overall, it is becoming clear that with their expertise in the field of RFID technology, smart-TEC is supporting one of the key goals of Industry 4.0. Optimised digital communication between man and machine.

Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory | © smart-TEC GmbH & Co. KG

NFC: also part of automated production

Near Field Communication, or NFC, allows the contactless reading of data using mobile terminals and is also known in the consumer sector as the "contactless pay by phone" concept. In future, all modern smartphones and tablets will support near field communication. In the context of Industry 4.0 too, technology is creating tremendous added value for companies. Just like RFID, an object becomes a carrier of information, although in the case of NFC technology the reader is a mobile device such as an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet instead of an industrial scanner of the type needed with RFID technology.

RFID and NFC as key building blocks of a smart factory

RFID and NFC are able to make objects intelligent. Materials that require processing carry RFID / NFC transponders that contain all of the information required for the production process. The data is read using an industrial reader or mobile device, telling the production units what needs to happen to the material or how it should be processed next. Essentially, a barcode would also fulfil this role. Barcodes, however, have one crucial disadvantage: information can only flow in one direction, since the data on the barcode cannot be changed. However this is precisely what is required by the smart factory, which makes up a large proportion of Industry 4.0. The factory of the future individually controls the material to be manufactured as part of the production phase. With RFID and NFC technology from smart-TEC, the workpiece is able to communicate in both directions with a reader. This means that the information on the RFID / NFC transponder can not only be read, but it can also be updated or added to. For this reason, the workpiece can then provide information at any time about which stages of the production process it has already gone through, and what stage it needs to go through next. In this context, the term often used is digital product memory.

Other advantages of RFID and NFC technology include:

1. Each chip has a unique serial number (UID) that is assigned only once worldwide, allowing unequivocal identification at individual product level.

2. Non-line-of-sight communication between RFID / NFC transponders and the write / read system. By attaching the transponders to protected areas, this allows them to be unaffected by soiling and yields a virtually 100% first-read rate.

3. Simultaneous reading of multiple RFID / NFC transponders in a single pass (bulk scanning).

Even production facilities communicate with each other

RFID or NFC technology gives not just products, but also machines the ability to communicate with each other. If a fault occurs, for example, a system is able to forward the information on without any delay. This type of message means that it is possible to reduce more than just downtimes. An automatic selection can even be made of which machine will take the job. The workpieces affected are diverted and appropriate information is stored on the RFID / NFC transponder. The result: product continues without interruption while the defective machine automatically requests a repair.

Supports the automation of other processes

RFID and NFC technology from smart-TEC can be used not just in production, but also in areas around it, where it also allows the widespread automation of processes. RFID readers impress by virtue of their speed, and are suitable for markedly simplifying goods inwards processes, for example. In just a few moments, several hundred RFID transponders - from goods on a pallet - can be read. If this data can be integrated into an existing ERP system, the registered articles can be compared online with the order submitted. At goods dispatch, the goods can be checked again, allowing the prompt detection of critical stock levels. Throughout the logistics chain, articles must be uniquely identified with RFID transponders, which in turn ensures that the flow of material is transparent throughout the added value chain.

This networking of all of the parties involved with the product lifecycle is another key component of digitisation. Technologies from smart-TEC are therefore also contributing to controlling increasingly globalised goods streams and complex supply chains - from production and sales to shipping and disposal - from start to finish.