The Cinderella of digitalization Companies hope that Industry 4.0 will bring faster, better and more efficient production. But almost no one is talking about energy management in this context. Especially not in the SME sector.

Executive Summary

1. Integrated The boundaries between the physical, digital and biological spheres are becoming blurred. That is changing the industrial landscape around the world. Completely new systems will emerge.

2. Expertise The working world is changing. The few workers who are still employed in the production process will only intervene when the complex but routine-oriented rulebook is breached.

3. Investments According to a study by ­the consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers, German industry is planning to invest more than €40 billion per year in Industry 4.0 applications by 2020.

4. Use of resources Energy efficiency is to be an integral part of Industry 4.0. Building networks that stretch across company boundaries is the pre-condition for greater energy flexibility.

FUTURISTIC: Qundis Managing Director Thomas Röhrl in the measuring station for electronic radiation.
Photo: Markus Hintzen

When Thomas Röhrl walks through the manufacturing facilities of Qundis in Erfurt, Germany, he is constantly looking upwards. He is looking, in fact, at the computer screens installed at every one of the 164 work stations where everything needed to measure energy consumption is produced: water meters, heat meters, thermal insulation meters, heat cost allocators. Röhrl is the managing director of Qundis and the screens are displaying a live broadcast of what’s going on in his factory – for example, the information at that very moment being engraved by laser into the casing of a device. This informationon might comprise serial numbers, article numbers, or the measurement grade accuracy of the device, as well as the logo of the manufacturer or the customer in whose name Qundis is making the device.

A seamless order placement process caters both to low quantities as well as to major orders of 150,000 devices. Up to 62 million variations of heat meters are possible. Just three years ago this was one of the most critical aspects of production, since all the information was programmed by hand. “The probability of labelling something incorrectly in this process was very high,” Röhrl says. But mistakes weren’t identified until the end of production or, even worse, until the devices reached the customer – who might wish, for example, to equip a residential complex with the devices. In addition to the trouble that this might cause, it also meant that production had to begin again from scratch.  

But all that is now in the past. In 2013, Qundis moved its production from two other sites in Germany to Erfurt. While doing so it took the opportunity to completely reorganize its production. Now, if a device is labelled inaccurately or another test parameter is incorrect, the letters “n.i.o.” (not in order) light up on the computer screen. But it is not the -computer that draws attention to the error. “The device is intelligent and recognizes the error itself: I am n.i.o.,” explains Röhrl. At the same time, the defective device is automatically withdrawn from any further production steps – and subsequently removed by a technician. Devices that are “i.o.” continue through the process uninterrupted. “For me, that is Industry 4.0,” Röhrl says.
Qundis is practicing something that was very much a watchword at the 2011 Hanover trade fair, and for which there are many definitions. For Röhrl, Industry 4.0 means linking up production processes with digital technology. At Qundis the circuit boards, the main elements of the devices, are fitted with chips right at the beginning of the production process. Qundis stores the individual information for every individual device on this chip, using its own specially developed software. Qundis has the same information in its own database, also specially developed for this purpose, called MAPS (Manufacturing Advanced Production System). The data on the chips is checked against the MAPS data in each individual production step – and if they do not agree with each other, it is fed back via the n.i.o. notification.

INSPECTION: Managing Director Thomas Röhrl talking to staff working in quality control.
Photo: Markus Hintzen

“This is a new world,” Röhrl says. This way not only can Qundis produce faster, improve its delivery reliability and also squeeze in an urgent extra order before continuing seamlessly with the production of a less urgent order, but the company can also reduce its energy consumption. Its reject rate fell by up to 80 percent. The rejected items were -defective devices which they would have had to produce again. “But we now save on the energy that we would have needed to do so,” Röhrl says.

Added to that are savings made possible because the production process can be minutely monitored. For example, a sophisticated air conditioning system now prevents the switching cabinet from overheating in summer. “Formerly, we only became aware of that happening when the plant stopped working,” Röhrl says. The lighting in the hall only illuminates areas that are currently producing. Qundis even now produces the sterile water used for cleaning the circuit boards, with two of its own filtering devices. “We used to buy that in from outside for a lot of money, but we had problems with the quality of the water time and time again,” Röhrl says. “But we could only identify this factor when we started capturing the machine data so precisely.” Last year, the company reduced its energy consumption by more than 10 percent, partly thanks to Industry 4.0 measures.

The transition to Industry 4.0 is on everyone’s lips. The EU Commission just presented a strategy paper in April in which it outlined plans to invest €500 million to make progress in this area. And last autumn the German Federal Ministry of Economics set up five Industry 4.0 competence centers for small and medium-sized enterprises. One of them is based at the German Association for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (BVMW). But the subject is rarely talked about in connection with energy management. Indeed, so far this has only been an interesting prospect for companies that have a very high energy burden, the energy consultant at BVMW says. “For many businesses, the savings potential is not big enough yet.”

Double role

TORSTEN HOCKE: energy management project manager at Weidmüller
Photo: Frank Schinski

In the German region of East Westphalia they see things a little differently. “Of course, Industry 4.0 is also an energy management issue,” says Torsten Hocke, Business Development Manager at Weidmüller, a medium-sized enterprise based in Detmold. The company has taken on a double role in Industry 4.0. On the one hand it is part of the manufacturing industry, with a product range that stretches from terminal blocks to electronic components to an -extensive range of tools, such as stripping tools. On the other hand, it advises other companies on how to manage their energy flows more efficiently using information technology, with measuring devices that have names like “Energy Analyzer” or “Energy Meter,” and which collect a vast amount of data.

It was in 2009 that Weidmüller first deployed universal software for monitoring energy use in its production facilities. “Back then the aim was merely to collect data,” Hocke says. In other words, instead of linking up devices, energy measurement appliances tracked when and where there was particularly high energy consumption. For example, this might have occurred because of load peaks generated when two large machines are turned on at the same time, thereby pushing up the company’s “peak load.” This is an immense cost factor because the energy providers must be able to cover this peak load at any time and calculate their prices accordingly – even if these peaks are only rarely attained.

INVENTOR: The Weidmüller company develops module systems for Industry 4.0.
Photo: Markus Hintzen

Data collection was also the main goal of the first project that Weidmüller worked on as a consultant. “Generally it is not our aim to say to the customer: you need a new production facility,” Hocke says. “Then it would no longer be cost-effective.” Instead, thanks to measuring devices attached to individual machines, the customer was for the first time able to see exactly how much energy it consumes by firing up the four -furnaces for its production. And based on this it could adapt its operating practices. “Instead of being either ‘at full throttle’ or simply ‘off,’ the power now hovered around a median value,” Hocke says. And thanks to Weidmüller’s technology, the factory engineers can now track online how high this consumption is at all times.

“Demand for monitoring of this kind is very high,” Hocke says, partly because the cost benefits are obvious. Companies that monitor their energy flows can save taxes by being certified according to ISO 50001 or – in small and medium-sized enterprises – by being audited in accordance with DIN EN 16247-1.

However, production doesn’t become truly “intelligent” until the next stage, which Hocke terms “Energy Analytics.” At this stage, the system analyzes data from the past and, based on that, draws conclusions for the future. For example, it becomes apparent when individual devices are running on different voltages. The reason could be overloading, contamination, or mechanical wear and tear. All these things can lead to excessive energy consumption –  and long-term to machines breaking down. This in turn means replacement machines have to turned on, which consumes a lot of energy. Hocke has observed that a large number of entrepreneurs are interested in this field, but “for many others the matter is still hard to grasp,” he says.

This estimation corresponds with a current study by the consultants on Industry 4.0 in small and -medium-sized businesses. It hasn’t yet really been taken on board in many places, the study reveals. “There is a broad awareness of the problem, but a sense of the need to act is not yet particularly widespread.” In particular, linking up production units is one area that could be developed according to the study. For example, 29 percent of small and medium-sized businesses haven’t yet linked up any production processes. Out of the remaining 71 percent, 28 percent said their processes were already “heavily” or “entirely” linked up. The words “energy” or “energy management” barely appear in the study at all.

However, there is another term that often crops up: “data security.” This issue comes second place in the study when it considers areas where action needs to be taken for 4.0, according to companies – or, put another way, in second place in the list of problems. Weidmüller is also confronted with this issue. That’s why the company’s measuring software runs on another server. Other system providers store the collected data in the cloud, Hocke says.

Overlooked: measurement technology

Access from outside to confidential operating data – that is a matter to be taken very seriously, explains Carsten Keichel from the Magdeburg Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF). As a project manager, Keichel analyzed where companies could harness energy potential, and collated the experiences of SME owners in the area of Industry 4.0 for the Fraunhofer innovation cluster “Intelligent, energy and resource-efficient regional value creation chains in industry” initiated by the IFF Magdeburg. “Many underestimated the role of measurement technology,” he says. “Many small businesses deal with the peripheral facts without looking at the actual production process.” Such was the case of an automotive supplier that Keichel’s Institute advised regarding the development of a new production facility. “The customer was satisfied with finding out how high the efficiency of the machines was. Then he set up the same production operations, but with more energy-efficient machines.”

IN HOUSE energy management: Process engineer Carsten Keichel beside a heat pump for the building’s air conditioning on the roof of the IFF offices in Magdeburg.
Photo: Frank Schinski

For Keichel this is where the work would begin. “The right question wouldn’t be, how can I reduce energy consumption a little bit more? Rather, the question should be, what is the minimum amount of energy required for this process?” he says. “Companies would have to develop an awareness of the fact that solutions are only possible if they have detailed information about their own processes and process workflows.”

That would lay the foundations for the next step: linking production data with energy generation. “In the future, energy providers and companies will have to talk to each other,” Keichel says, “because the energy suppliers can use Industry 4.0 to their advantage, too. With decentralized networks that they can control, depending on the network utilization.”

Röhrl is already thinking in this direction. A solar power facility has been installed on the roof of the Qundis factory. But there is still a lack of suitable storage systems for effectively linking this energy source with production operations. But he is in talks with manufacturers. “If we can access this energy at precisely the moment we have peaks in our production, there’s easily another 20–30 percent we can save. That could happen in about three years,” he says. He also knows that in that time a new world could emerge.

NATURAL GAS STORAGE Simulating operations with Industry 4.0

For astora, one of Europe’s largest gas storage operators, digitalization is about its storage facilities with its IT-based processes, with the help of storage management software. “This way we can optimize simulated operations, which is very important for us,” says astora operations manager Andreas Schulz. Here lies the big potential of Industry 4.0. “Simulated operations allow us to see in advance exactly how much gas we should inject into the storage facility under various conditions in order to operate the facility with a maximum of energy efficiency, and hence cost-effectiveness.”

astora operations manager Andreas Schulz
Photo: Frank Schinski

The simulation also helps, for example, to calculate the optimal fill level for caverns before filling them, since the interplay between the composition of the gas, temperature and pressure is crucial. The growing volume of gas trading also makes it increasingly important for astora to receive online just-in-time data about the capacities that are available from the control system. The quality of the gas – that is, its composition and calorific value – as well as the volume, is measured and determined continuously via the control  system. “If the software could now learn new skills, and more or less develop a memory, then the next generation of industry will have been reached.”

To guarantee data protection and cyber security, astora works with its own process control technology network, which is separate from its normal business network. In addition, all employees take part in information -protection training every year. Those who work directly in the IT area also form part of a special group which meets regularly to receive and discuss the latest information.

Text: Claus Hornung

NEW BUILDING: In 2013 Qundis opened a new manufacturing hall in Erfurt with a fully integrated production site.

DEVICES: At Qundis, these heat cost allocators are fi tted with chips that contain all the production data right at the start of production.

INTERVIEW: “German Utilities are focusing on digital services”

Katherina Reiche, Managing Director of the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU), explains why municipal suppliers are the ideal partners in digitalization for citizens.

Find out more

Our magazine

Read more selected articles from the GASWINNER online here.

Read current issue

GASWINNER Archive