The European machinery association Euromap is introducing what it's calling a significant step forward for the development of Industry 4.0, releasing the first common digital standard that allows machines from different companies to talk to each other.
The group unveiled the standard, called Euromap 77, at NPE2018, with a May 8 press tour. While the topic is technical, officials said it's important for the industry to move forward on developing such standards.
"Our opinion is we really need these digital interfaces for Industry 4.0 to work," said Thorsten Kühmann, secretary general of Euromap. "Industry 4.0 will only really work if you have a complete information flow."
The Euromap 77 standard, which was officially released May 4, only covers injection molding machines, and allows standardized communication between the injection press and a manufacturing execution system.
The association said other standards are being worked on, covering data exchanges between molding machines and temperature controllers (Euromap 82), molding machines and robots (Euromap 79) and between extrusion machines and MES (Euromap 84).
Industry officials said one advantage of new standards would be to have more flexibility in how plastics processors can have equipment from different companies work together and trade information.
It would not replace existing manufacturers' systems, but instead would function as an interface. One technologist speaking on the tour compared it to the memory sticks in personal computers.
"It's like plug and play with the USB stick in your computer," said Jochen Mitzler, director of market intelligence and product management at German equipment maker KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH.
Euromap said its standard is based on what's called OPC Unified Architecture, which is an interoperability standard used in the field of industrial automation by several industries. It said it promotes the reliable and secure exchange of data.
Kühmann said it's a first step, with much more development needed. The standards themselves have been developed by the European industry, but several executives on the tour said it's important to develop global standards.
"There is no reason to have just a European standard," said Kühmann, who stressed that the Europeans want to share their standards.
Heinz Gaub, managing director, technology and engineering and injection press maker Arburg GmbH + Co. KG said that "the more global a standard is, the more advantageous it is for global companies like Arburg."
In the United States, the Plastics Industry Association has formed a subcommittee to look at global standards for Industry 4.0, or the internet of things, as it's sometimes called.
At the opening day news conference May 7, Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Washington-based association, said plastics associations from around the world will be meeting on the evening of May 9 during NPE2018 to discuss how to move ahead on global standards.
"The whole purpose is to talk about 4.0 and how we come together as the world to come up a standard, as opposed to everyone coming up with their own and saying well, this is the one," Carteaux said.
Glenn Anderson, president of strategic account development at Milacron Holdings Corp. and chairman of NPE2018, said developing standards will be crucial to the wider use of Industry 4.0 technologies.
"There's no question we're going to have to come up with standards to be able to meander through all the challenges that come when you add that connectivity to our customers and to the technology," Anderson said.
Kühmann said it's important for the plastics industry to work with industrial partners and develop its own standards for digital interfaces for its equipment, rather than giving an opening for other data-intensive industries to develop standards.
Kühmann said the Euromap announcement is a first step, with much more development to come. Executives from other companies on the tour, which included Engel Austria GmbH, Battenfeld Cincinnati Group and Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH, suggested a time frame of one to two years to begin to see the other standards talked about on the tour.
One thing was clear. Even if it's several years away, moving in the direction of 4.0 will require an upgrade for the skillset of machine operators in plastics processing plants, said Andreas Turk, director of sales at Battenfeld Cincinnati.
"The level of education at the line will increase — we need a higher level of skilled worker," Turk said, adding that more 4.0-related automation will probably result in fewer employees needed in processing factories.
"We may no longer need the worker who just cleans out the pipe," he said.