Industry 4.0 in EMS »The step from 3.9 to 4.0 will remain individual«

Gerd Ohl, Limtronik
»No matter in which way you describe Industry 4.0, the fact is you have to face up to the interlinking of machines.«
Gerd Ohl, Limtronik: »No matter in which way you describe Industry 4.0, the fact is you have to face up to the interlinking of machines.«

Industry 4.0 has arrived in the factories of electronics service providers in many places. But the characteristics of smart factories are (still) very different. The Forum participants take stock.

Anyone who refers to Industry 4.0 as the fourth industrial revolution should also be aware of the enormous difference between Industry 4.0 and the previous three industrial revolutions: Their conceptual classification as “revolutions” took place only retrospectively. “With Industry 4.0, on the other hand, first an idea was conceived and then one compulsively tried to create reality,” says Bernd Enser, Vice President Automotive Market Segment at Sanmina.

“In my opinion, we are still at 3.9 because we are not in a position to undertake something so fundamental during ongoing production. Furthermore, despite the official framework models, the definition of industry 4.0 cannot simply be adapted to all manufacturing situations and neither can every production situation be shoehorned into the scheme. The step between 3.9 and 4.0 will therefore always remain individual,” says Enser. Dr. Peter Schmitt, Business Director of CCS, believes that one problem with Industry 4.0 is the multitude of players from the electronics industry involved. “The majority of component manufacturers are located in the USA or Asia and are not interested in concepts born in Europe, and for this, we in Europe have no leverage”.

“From My 4.0 to Our 4.0“

Some Forum participants criticized the fact that attempts were immediately made to generate business models from Industry 4.0 without first having defined a foundation. “They chose the perfect bathroom tile, but forgot to build the roof,” says Enser in a pointed statement. “We will only be able to implement Industry 4.0 if we say goodbye to ‘My 4.0’ and move towards ‘Our 4.0’”, he insists. Different departments and different industries will have to be integrated and connected. Many believe that Industry 4.0 relates solely to the production process. But that is not enough: “We always have to consider processes that do not add value,” emphasizes Johann Weber, CEO of Zollner Elektronik. “Therefore, a holistic approach is required that incorporates indirect processes and direct processes as well as man, machine and material”.

A higher-level cooperation between all parties involved in the supply chain - manufacturer, distributor, EMS and on to the OEM - must grow organically and cannot be implemented overnight. “We just have to accept this,“ replies Stephan Baur, Partner at BMK. In Baur‘s opinion, the idealized image of Industry 4.0, that a product seamlessly and independently makes its way through globally distributed production, will not work in this way. “But digitalization certainly helps creative minds to implement their ideas”.


“What’s missing is the Big Picture“

The electronics service providers also demonstrate their creativity in terms of their system landscape, since there are hardly any standardized solutions suitable for the shop floor. Roland Hollstein, Managing Director of Grundig Business Systems, describes the consequences as follows: “We build isolated solutions and try to become more and more perfect in these isolated solutions”. Grundig Business Systems uses a system for purchasing, a traceability system and even its own system for THT assembly. For some orders, customers supply work instructions that are imported directly into the terminals at the service provider‘s workstations. “Of course, all this helps us to make our processes more efficient, but what’s missing is the big picture”, says Hollstein. “Because connecting this heterogeneous system landscape across the board is out of the question”.

Isolated solutions for Industry 4.0

Nevertheless, there are many instances of very advanced smart factories in electronics production, says Johann Weber, who refers to a Benchmark and quotes Gunther Kegel, CEO of pepperl+fuchs, “Electronics are at least 10 years ahead of mechanics in this respect”.

And after all, isolated solutions are not necessarily negative, but rather that which makes Industry 4.0 in the DACH region so special, replies Jürgen Seibert, Vice President Business Development EMEA at Plexus: “I am familiar with customer and EMS production sites from around the world. The EMS companies in the DACH region have all established certain isolated solutions under the umbrella of Industry 4.0 and it is precisely these isolated solutions that put us one or even two steps ahead of the USA and Asia. I receive the same feedback from customers in the USA. So we have nothing at all to hide. Our EMS providers are on the right track. It’s those in other regions who have to catch up.”

Felix Timmermann, Executive Vice President of Asteelflash, shares this view. “We are discussing here at a very advanced systems level and I think it is important that the message is conveyed in the same way. Industry 4.0 is both a demand generator for us and an enabler for our sites - in administration as well as in manufacturing. If we do not digitize our administrative and manufacturing processes, we will simply be eliminated from the market”. In this respect, Asteelflash has invested significantly in the implementation of Industry 4.0, Timmermann confirms. And it‘s not just about such “hot” topics as collaborative robots in production, but also the pragmatic optimization of logistics, for example with X-ray counting devices, so that nobody has to count components manually anymore.