Open Protocol Unlock's Industry 4.0 PotentialBy Alejandro Salas | Fri, 03/29/2019 - 05:00
Q: How relevant has the mobility segment become for Balluff in Mexico?
A: Our focus for 2019 is on the tire sector. This market will continue to grow, regardless if it is the electric, internal combustion or hybrid vehicle market. We are developing technology specifically designed for tire manufacturers, integrating our IO-Link network solutions, vision and inspection equipment, as well as radiofrequency solutions to track tires at the production line and when they are delivered to the OEM client or the end user.
Q: What strategies has Balluff implemented to grow the adoption of IO-Link among Mexican players?
A: IO-Link’s presence is growing in Mexico. This industrial subnetwork uses an open protocol that has allowed equipment manufacturers to release new IO-Link-compatible products. Even companies using the AS-i protocol are now opting for IO-Link to develop their latest solutions. Regardless of the industrial network clients might use, IO-Link maintains effective industrial communication and customers can enjoy improved data management, installation and cost reduction benefits. Gradually, more clients and even our competitors are embracing IO-Link and our expectation is that it will soon become the most important industrial protocol globally.
Efficient data collection is the key to unlocking Industry 4.0’s potential, considering this concept relies on real-time data management for decision-making. Balluff works as a facilitator of data for Industry 4.0 and IO-Link has simplified our role substantially.
Japan’s Nissan has become one of our main clients in the automotive sector. The company used the CC-Link network at its facility but after a refurbishing process, we presented IO-Link as an alternative solution. Nissan realized that the level of data management, together with the ease of installation and the consequent increase in productivity, made IO-Link the best option for its operations. In 2018, we migrated Nissan’s operations for three production lines to IO-Link, which represented an investment for the OEM of approximately US$500,000.
Q: What are the main challenges you detect for companies when migrating toward Industry 4.0 implementations?
A: Reluctance to change is natural but automotive companies are fairly open to try new technology and they have allocated people and resources to move their operations toward Industry 4.0. The real challenges are finding qualified people to work with these technologies and the lack of software developers specialized in Industry 4.0 solutions, since most are normally focused on the service and retail industries.
We created a joint venture with Vision Consulting, a software developer from Queretaro, to develop solutions for the manufacturing industry. This company originated in the financial sector, but it saw the potential opportunity that Industry 4.0 represents in the manufacturing industry. We will launch our first joint solution in April, which will be based on the IO-Link protocol and will allow companies to gather data directly from the production floor and present it on a mobile phone or a computer. Clients will be able to detect flaws immediately and make decisions accordingly.
Q: How important is Industry 4.0 for the development of the SME market in automotive manufacturing?
A: Technology can help companies make decisions based on real-time information and alert them if there are any quality issues on the production line. It also provides flexibility to better address the changing needs of the market, which translates to productivity and competitiveness. If local suppliers were to raise their technological base, Mexico’s competitiveness in manufacturing would be on par with any global production hub.
There is massive potential to grow our participation among SMEs, especially considering the falling costs of automation equipment. Once we perform a cost-benefit analysis, companies realize that making an investment to automate their processes is highly profitable in the short term.