Industry 4.0

Editorial Type: Opinion Date: 09-2017 Views: 1,724 Tags: CAD, Construction, ArtSystems, MakerBot 3D printer PDF Version:
ArtSystems recently hosted a seminar for resellers of its MakerBot 3D printer range that highlighted the growing importance of the technology and how it fitted in with 'Industry 4.0' - the next industrial revolution
Would the rapid deployment of collaboration skills and the sharing of information on a construction project have been achievable outside the umbrella of the terminology of BIM and its promotion by the government? Was BIM a catalyst, or just a convenient tag to describe trends that were already emerging in the construction industry?

I posed this at a recent seminar hosted by ArtSystem, specialist distributors of HP printers, scanners and 3D printers. The company was recently acquired by Westcoast, the well-known distributors of consumer products. One of the main focuses of the seminar was to educate VAR customers of ArtSystems in the latest trends in 3D printing, running under the iconic title of 'Industry 4.0'. I asked because the term, introduced four years ago by the German company Frauenhofer, has still to make the sort of impact on the market that BIM has - and without that impact will the industry thrive as it should?

What is Industry 4.0? You may well ask, as it was a new term to me as well. Industry 1.0 was the industrial revolution back in the 1780s. Industry 2.0 occurred in the 1920s when electricity enabled the introduction of mass production. Industry 3.0 sprouted in the 1970s with the growth of computer technology, communications, 24/7 working and globalisation. Finally, Industry 4.0 is now used to describe the introduction of open source manufacturing systems and connected processes using the Internet of Things.

Industry 4.0, therefore, will usher in the cyber-physical production line, using the cloud to connect devices, automate processes and utilise robots and AM devices to produce customisable goods closer to the point of consumption, and driverless vehicles to deliver them - a huge shift in the means of production, and in step with global economies that are changing at an unprecedented rate.

Advanced digitisation and the Internet of Things signals the emergence of a constant dialogue independent of humans, integrated workflows and highly developed automation - the 'glue' of Industry 4.0. When an order for a particular product is ordered online the manufacturing details are loaded, components selected and the 3D print files assembled and sent to a local manufacturing facility. Here it can be 3D printed in single quantities or very short runs and despatched entirely without the intervention of humans - except to replace the 3D print material when it runs out!

This gives us increased customisation and products on demand, in contrast to mass manufacturing that relies on accurate forecasting, high production volumes, dedicated production lines with implicit dangers of overproduction, obsolescence when the product is updated and high levels of redundant stock.

But this is all about manufacturing, you might think, not construction. I would disagree, as the construction industry is becoming increasingly geared towards offsite construction and onsite assembly of customised items, delivering only when required from local fabricators - the self-same Industry 4.0 scenario.

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph highlighted the latest trends in warehousing and distribution, which slot in neatly with the concept of Industry 4.0. The self-proclaimed "World's Largest Underground Business Complex", SubTropolis is a 55,000,000-square-foot underground warehouse based just outside of Kansas City. Meanwhile robot warehouses are becoming familiar throughout the UK. Driverless delivery vehicles apart, Amazon has filed patents for 'aerial warehousing', delivering goods by parachute or drones, and a planning application for the first underground warehouse at Heston, Heathrow is being considered.

It is now entirely feasible that the cycle of order, manufacture and delivery could be entirely untouched by human hands. It would be efficient, of course, but would also completely change the manufacturing and construction ethos in the country. Traditional jobs will make way for new types of roles with different skills, and the country's infrastructure will need to bend to the new methods of material supply, production and delivery of goods to the consumer.

Industry 4.0 was the main focus of the ArtSystems seminar and a lead in to the hardware on show, with opportunities provided by Stratasys and MakerBot printers, complemented by the introduction of a 3D scanner solution from HP that uses a unique method of plotting the 3D measurements of an object. The widespread use of MakerBot 3D printers in education was emphasised, serving as an introduction for students to the technology and its important role in future manufacturing.

A practical example of 3D printing in education was given by Phil Hall of Windsor Boys' School, who explained that his students were tasked with both the design and modelling of objects for subsequent 3D printing - foreseeing a significant role for designers with 3D experience in industry.

MakerBot 3D printers come in a number of sizes, from the compact MakerBot Replicator Mini+ which prints up to 4'' by 5'' by 5'' to the MakerBot Replicator, which comes with a Smart Extruder and in-built camera to monitor progress and can print models up to 11.6'' by 7'' by 6.3'', and the Replicator Z18, which provides professional capabilities at a fraction of the cost of comparable printers and offers a build volume of 11.8'' by 12'' by 18''. All the MakerBot models use FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) technology with MakerBot PLA filament fed through a nozzle, where it is heated and printed (deposited) in thin layers to build up the object. It's a simple process that involves no noxious substances, and which can be set up to run on an office desktop.

Complex objects with parts that need to be separated after printing don't need washing in separate solutions to dissolve the support structures, as these are created by printing lighter supports in the same material that are easily snapped off.

The printers on display in the MakerBot lab had a variety of objects in progress, the most interesting being a version of the Eiffel Tower and a composite model of the Torre Glòries tower in Barcelona. 3D printers are ideally suited for testing concept designs for appearance, fit and function, and also for building components for similar architectural models - still a requirement in the industry despite the growth of augmented reality.

But what about the HP scanner? The HP 3D Structured Light Scanner Pro S2 is comprised of a small video camera, a light projector with a difference, a rotating plinth that automatically turned the object through 360 degrees, and a screen for focusing the camera for different sized objects - along with some pretty advanced software.

We are quite familiar with using laser scanning to capture 3D distances and create point cloud images of an object. What this scanner did was to project a lattice or grid of lines onto the object, and to calculate distances by analysing the image picked up by the camera, measuring grid distortion. The software could also create a mask to extract the optional turntable from the scanned image, and to make repairs to the scanned image. This might lack somewhat in accuracy but is good enough to create 3D models that can be printed by one of the MakerBot printers.

The real value of the seminar was in looking at the role of scanning and 3D printing within industry 4.0 and its future. 3D printed components are already being widely used in space and other aeronautical technologies, and the ability to add stronger materials to 3D processes now makes them suitable to create components for use in Formula 1, with carbon fibre components manufactured trackside during the build-up to a race.

The side issue was in changing the mindset of suppliers to industry and construction from selling equipment at low cost with no added value, to gearing up towards the provision of complete solutions that provide analysis, specification, training and support to customers. Industrial revolution 4.0, perhaps?