Modern, automated welding robot

Logistics in Industry 4.0: completely interlinked

Digitization is turning the German industrial landscape inside out. In the future smart factory, everyone will be networked with everyone else. However, that cannot work without optimal logistics systems. Presently, however, companies still have only partial areas in their sights.

It sounds like a dream of the future: in the intelligent factory, workpieces find their own way through the production facilities and tell the machines what should happen to them at which station. Robots put the products together – the human being programs, monitors and ensures a smooth process. The networked coexistence does not have to be confined to the individual factory: suppliers and partner companies are also included in the production cycle. This helps to improve the processes and save costs on all sides.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The described scenario is explosive. After all, behind the catchword “Industry 4.0” hides nothing less than the Fourth Industrial Revolution. After the invention of the steam engine, the worldwide supply of electricity and later with computers and IT, now all-encompassing networking in the Internet of Things follows. All processes in a company are linked together thanks to intelligent hardware and software solutions.

However, this cannot work without optimal logistics systems. After all, the central promise of digitization – complete transparency, production in small batches with a large number of variants, networked processes or decentralised control, for example – cannot be realized in production alone. Its implementation along the entire supply chain requires a completely new understanding of logistics – from procurement to warehousing and production to distribution logistics. The focus of digitization is “Logistics 4.0”.

Horizontally and vertically networked

In Logistics 4.0, the supply chain has to be networked in two dimensions: vertically from the supplier to the customer and horizontally in the form of collaborative value creation networks. The goal of this comprehensive integration: companies can implement self-controlling processes while simultaneously increasing their level of automation and transparency.

New and advanced technologies make this two-dimensional networking possible today. In addition to the constantly improved sensor technology these include, above all, the automated, wireless exchange of information from machine to machine (M2M) as well as advances in robotics. In the future, augmented reality, in which computers and robots support and expand human perception, will also play a role. At the same time, Cloud computing data is available always and everywhere and can be quickly and accurately analysed and processed using big data applications.

Already reality

Even if the completely-connected factory still sounds like science fiction today, many of its components are already reality and have long been used by companies in Germany and the rest of the world. Transport management systems, for example, provide complete transparency and enable systematic control of supplies from OEMs and suppliers. Driverless tugger trains navigate using a 3D laser and modern video technology. In supermarkets, shelves and storage containers measure the goods stocks themselves, thanks to sensors, and order outdated products. In order picking so-called smart glasses replace scanners or even paper documents – errors are thus reduced and the process speed increased.

“Nonetheless, these and many other examples have in common that today only parts of the supply chain are digitized and networked according to Industry 4.0 criteria,” warn the experts of the 4flow logistics consultant. “There is still a long way to go until there is complete networking along the entire value chain.” In addition, existing solutions rely primarily on new technologies, but “Logistics 4.0” requires a cross-process approach, and that usually requires an organisational realignment. In some companies, for example, Industry 4.0 solutions will change or even replace traditional business models. Also, new, disruptive technologies such as 3D printing will have a dramatic impact on spare parts logistics. Simultaneously, however, innovative companies will be able to design and offer new services.

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