Working at the intersection of digital and physical systems, Total Construction is primed to integrate Industry 4.0 into a manufacturing facility. Manufacturers’ Monthly explains.
Thinking about installing Industry 4.0 systems in your plant? It’s time to talk to your builder. This is the message from Rob Blythman, general manager, Engineering Construction Group for Total Construction.
“When you’re increasing your efficiencies by 20 per cent or more by doing Industry 4.0, you’re going to need more storage space,” said Blythman. “If you are doing more throughput through the factory, you need to think about, ‘Where am I going to keep the materials?’”
The real adoption of Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing sector in Australia is not a vision of the future, but a current concern. Whether that is in the form of digitally connected processes or the automated movement of goods, Industry 4.0 presents major opportunities, which Blythman sums up.
“A saying someone said to me once is, ‘if you have to push it, pull it or lift it, automate it’. That takes out all your risk of injury to staff, streamlines your processes so you can manage your efficiency, and after that, everything else in automation is bespoke to your particular operation.”
Implementing these bespoke and off-the-shelf automation systems into a factory is where Industry 4.0 becomes a reality. Total Construction – which serves market sectors such as food and beverage, energy and infrastructure, commercial and industrial and health – knows what the impacts of the adoption of the latest industrial technology are, and how to integrate them into a building’s floor plan. However, the company remains a construction firm at their core.
“We’re not going to say, ‘This should be automated and this is the piece of equipment you should use’,” said Blythman. “You’ll know as the manufacturer what piece of equipment you want to put in, what process you want to put in. We’ll advise on what that means for
Blythman highlighted that before introducing a new piece of equipment, which has the potential to reshape a manufacturing process, a production or building manager should be thinking about the flow of people through a building. This is where Total comes in.
“We can help with the process flow, design layout, costing on that building and then manufacturers have a full package to present to financiers or boards.”
While these issues may be a simple step in the construction process of a new factory, when retrofitting advanced automation or digital technologies to existing factories, the process becomes more complex.
“Not many existing factories around have an abundance of spare space or services within the building,”
cautioned Blythman. “A lot of them are old, a lot of them have issues with asbestos, with services. So you can’t go in and cut off services that may be crucial somewhere else in the factory.”
With connectivity being a key enabler for Industry 4.0 technology, introducing a high-speed, internet network into an existing factory takes an understanding of the structure of the building, as James Bolton, general manager, energy and infrastructure at Total pointed out.
“That can be anything from the ethernet backbone and how that’s all laid out, through to things like the wireless access points that need to be physically put in place. That usually gets thought about at the very end, after the fact,” said Bolton.
Bolton sees the introduction of new systems such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) as presenting new issues for buildings.
“Ten years ago, you might have had a robotic palletiser and a fairly straightforward conveyor that puts a box on a pallet. Now the difference is that we’re starting to see this language of ‘dark factory’; there are no humans, it’s all conveyors. One of the more interesting things we saw of late was the robot AGVs bringing empty pallets to the palletiser, bringing film to the shrink wrapper, taking completed pallets to the truck.”
These AGVs are now one part inside wider Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS), which according to Blythman are becoming increasingly accessible to a wider range of businesses.
“In the last 6-12 months, ASRS, that started in the mass FMCG market, have gone beyond that. We’re dealing with a small manufacturer, and he’s put in an ASRS, because the cost barrier has come right down. It’s not massive volume, but he still wants an ASRS, because having people go in and out of a freezer all the time, power-wise, cost- wise it’s not good.”
When introducing these systems, the safe interaction between humans and robots is a key consideration. While AGVs have their own safety and stopping systems, reducing
the incidence of this occurring is something that can be solved with foresight.
“One of the biggest issues occurs when people have to re-do their layout inside a factory,” said Blythman. “You look at the footsteps, where people are going, and then you’ve got to map what the new footsteps will be.”
In a recent project, a Total client had retrofitted AGVs into an existing warehouse, and staff crossing in front of the paths of AGVs caused the vehicles to stop. Despite the stopping not being a fault of the machine, the time it took for the AGVs to restart impacted enough on the profitability of the system to cause the client to return to manual handling of goods.
Planning for now
While Industry 4.0 might seem like a project to fix current problems, the potential for new systems to improve the productivity of a system means that implementing Industry 4.0 requires thinking about the future. Incorporating room for future expansion should be part of any Industry 4.0 plan, noted Blythman.
“We’re talking about what they’re potentially going to be doing in 5 to 10 years. We allow for 20 per cent growth in Industry 4.0 implementation. More robotics or non-labour-intensive activities.”
Where Blythman sees this playing out is not only on the factory floor but in the supporting infrastructure for digital systems. With data now an essential utility, alongside electricity, incorporating this into the physical footprint of a plant is something worth consideration.
“A lot of factories don’t have a data room, and it won’t be climate controlled,” said Blythman. “We do big data centres and just as much effort goes into the conditioning of the air as in a food facility.
“We understand that the computers can’t be running at 50 degrees. Whether it be one server or a bank of servers, you’ve got a have a lot of computer power to run whatever level of Industry 4.0 you’re doing.”
Here, Total draws on its experience in the food and beverage sector where refrigeration and air-conditioning are required for the factory.
“We know how to look at negative, positive air, what the impact on a facility and cost is. Quite often, we’ll say use your refrigeration system to do refrigeration and air-conditioning. A bigger refrigeration system will cost you less in maintenance in the long term and less on your installation costs, whereas if you want to have two separate systems you’ve got to have condensers all over the place, to keep something at 20oC,” said Blythman. “That’s where the building smarts come into play.”
The next step is to look at whether the facility would benefit from a comprehensive Building Information Modelling (BIM) system to enable the “smart factory”.
“Someone with a notebook can walk around the factory and look at any piece of equipment without leaving the office,” said Blythman. “That’s where this thing leads to.”
Building the process
Getting to the point of implementing a BIM requires a holistic understanding of how cyber and physical systems fit together, that Total, which stands at the point between construction tradespeople and Industry 4.0 engineers, can provide.
“We manage installation and commissioning,” said Blythman. “We won’t install equipment because again, most of that kit has warranty issues, but we manage those people so that the safety and process requirement are met.”
Bolton likens this working relationship to one of a translator.
“We have a conversation with the tradespeople to get that solution back to the client, to say ‘Here’s what you need to achieve what you want, it has these components in it and the price is X’. The tradespeople are happy, because they’re talking to someone who knows their needs, and then the client is happy because we’re explaining it to them in a way that they can understand.”
A successful relationship comes down to early contractor involvement, something that Total sees as key to navigating the construction process. Knowing from the start what will be required for the upgrade or construction of an integrated, smart factory, avoids variations that occur once a plan has been finalised, which involves a significant time and monetary cost.
The final relationship that Total advises manufacturers to be aware of is with local regulatory bodies.
“Manufacturers might want to add a room or add a storage area, but anything outside the original footprint has got to go through a Development Application (DA),” said Blythman. “That’s anywhere up or sideways, and what council will do is require the entire building to be upgraded to current specification. They won’t come doorknocking when you don’t do anything, but when you put in a DA they’ll say, ‘You need a lift
for disabled access’. You’re not breaking the law by not having it done, but you won’t get approval for the new works unless the entire building is brought up to code as part of the works.”