Why Industry 4.0 does not only change the Collaboration of Machines

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For Saint-Gobain “Industry 4.0” is far more than a marketing-effective buzzword. Rather, the company already incorporated a roadmap for its subsidiary Saint-Gobain Sekurit, comprehensively addressing five important strategic fields as smart data, smart automation, information technology, people involvement & connected operator, as well as customer benefit. This roadmap enables the step-wise implementation of successive measures, starting from the “Proof-of-Concept” up to the full integration into the production environment within the next few years. At the end of an extensive 5-year plan, the achievement of superior goals is intended, such as “AI in Production”, “Closed-Loop Engineering”, “Immersive Experience” or the automated and flexible production of small batch-sizes while achieving a high degree of product variance at the same time.

Industrie 4.0
Saint-Gobain Dataflow Industry 4.0

What has been happening so far

During the past two years, Saint-Gobain Sekurit succeeded to create a comprehensive connectivity as basis for further Industry 4.0 projects. Besides connecting single production facilities and equipping them with new technology sensors, the entire production was supplied with a Wi-Fi connection. Considering more than 4500 data points first dashboards and live-visualizations were generated for a lighthouse production line.

Based on this, the first self-regulating production processes were launched. Using data analytics, complex models were trained, which are able to automatically adapt to external influences such as day and night or summer and winter during the production process. With the introduction of Edge Devices Saint-Gobain Sekurit laid another cornerstone for an innovation-driven and future pointing IT-landscape. In addition to that, cobots, smart devices or tracking-technologies are further components, which are either currently being validated or which have been implemented into the production already.

All of these activities do support already existing or upcoming demands for a significantly more flexible production and working environment. Dr.-Ing. Markus Obdenbusch, Head of Digital Transformation, is a major driver behind the development and implementation of the mentioned roadmap. He explains the importance of doing so referring to the following example:

“Automotive glazing can be delivered in a variety of versions nowadays. Depending on the configuration, rain- or light sensors, sign-detection, thermic comfort functions or integrated antennas play an important role. Based on the market, suppliers like us are highly asked to produce all these variances at a cost similar to mass-production – even though the quantity of single units is simultaneously decreasing. This requires more intelligent methodologies to automatically and easily change all relevant production facilities to continue with a different variance. If this is achieved in a significantly shorter time period through new solutions, it would be possible to switch between different products or models in a higher frequency than we are currently able to do.“

New technologies need new forms of cooperation

However, the challenge is: digitalization projects such as the transformation to Industry 4.0 need the involvement of experts from multiple disciplines like, IT, automation, maintenance, production or R&D. Today these teams classically work in separate departments, which may be efficient for the daily business of the individual departments. But, to address cross-functional innovation projects new forms of cooperation need to be developed.

“To successfully pursue Industry 4.0, or digitalization projects in general, it is not enough to only connect machines with each other. Rather, and to the same extent, it is essential to pool experts into cross-functional teams.”

Thus, by using “Project Ventures” Saint-Gobain is following a new approach:

“It is one thing to connect machines. But project groups also benefit from such close connections, agile methods or creative exchanges, in exactly the same way. While until now Industry 4.0 has focused on production itself, we think that innovation through digital solutions is more comprehensive.”

For the project ventures experiment, spatial as well was temporal synchronicity is established for the whole cross-functional team one day per week. In a creative environment the team has access to all the needed data and resources, ways of communication are short and the focus as well as the alignment on the respective projects can be as high as possible.

At the same time, innovative methods such as “Design Thinking”, “Customer Journey” or the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) are used – totally within the scope of implementing new value-creating approaches – making it possible to take further steps in agile working and thus to significantly increase overall pace and efficiency.

For Markus Obdenbusch und Saint-Gobain, this change in collaboration is an integral and inevitable part of Industry 4.0: “Innovation means continuous transformation – technical, digital as well as human.”