Events | November 8, 2018

EuroBLECH 2018 – Industry 4.0 is Now Here

Last week I had the chance to take part in the world’s leading sheet metal industry trade fair. Or perhaps the term “trade fair” doesn’t quite cover it – EuroBLECH is primarily an exhibition. The biggest players in the industry come here to exhibit rather than just sell their products: we’ve got what you’re looking for, we are cutting-edge, innovative, we create and implement new technologies, and thanks to us your business will be even better! Smaller producers come here to remind people of their market activity… and check out what their bigger rivals are doing. This has been the standard at trade fairs for many years now, but does it work? Of course, and very well too.

EuroBLECH is held in Hannover, in the huge Hannover Fairground fair and exhibition complex. The area of the complex is huge, 496,000 m2 of land, of which 58,000 m2 is designated for 27 huge exhibition halls. It really is a small city, with its own public transport system – there are bus stops and regular buses because of the distance around and size of the facility.

Hannover Messe

The oldest and best-known event which takes place here is Hannover Messe, which I also had the opportunity to participate in this year. We can say that it is the largest trade fair for industry in Europe. All the major players (and pretenders to the crown) in the industry exhibit here, including producers of machines and steel products, pumps, bearings, forklifts and quick charging stations. The number of exhibitors each year is in excess of 5000.

It is a huge event, all the halls are packed to the rafters, and it takes a few days to see everything at least. But for me, as an automation engineer, the fairs were a bit chaotic, with too many machines, products, technologies and industries in one place. In my opinion, the slogan “industry” is a bit too much of a ‘catch-all’ term at Hannover Messe.

EuroBLECH

EuroBLECH is a smaller trade fair – “only” 1600 exhibitors in eight halls, but personally I find it much more interesting. The main theme is the machining of steel and other materials, so you can find machines for cutting, bending, drilling, threading, welding etc.; in short, everything a modern factory should have. And where there’s a machine, there is also a driver, and usually there are software tools on a mobile device or a computer too. It’s no wonder that an automation engineer seems to want to see everything immediately: how does it work, how did they do it, what did they use?

The undisputed star of EuroBLECH – Bystronic

JCommerce’s client, the Swiss company Bystronic, which specializes in the production of bending and laser cutting machines, had the biggest stand at the fair. The stand was massive, with lots of machines, including the first demonstrations of their prototypes, which attracted thousands of visitors. You had to squeeze through the crowd to see the most interesting (meaning the latest) devices. A miniature, portable and fully robotic material loading station, the latest tube and profile processing machines, as well as an absolutely cutting-edge prototype of a machine that not only cuts shapes but also drills holes and threads them before loading material for cutting, which significantly shortens the entire machining process.

Bystronic gave an excellent account of itself, showing off its complete range of products, along with all available software (and even software still under development).

I must admit, however, that the competition is strong and competitors are developing their products and range equally strongly. There are so many producers of numerically controlled machines that everyone should find a device that suits his requirements and possibilities at EuroBLECH.

Industry 4.0 solutions

During the fair, the trend of implementing Industry 4.0 solutions in companies from the industry was very clear. And most importantly, it does not come from an approach that “we have to have Industry 4.0, because it’s fashionable,” but from the fact that the client actually expects such solutions. No wonder companies connected with production and processing actually gain specific and measurable benefits from the implementation of Industry 4.0 solutions. So everyone, literally every major producer, offers bespoke solutions using the concept of the fourth industrial revolution.

Nowadays it is not sufficient just to produce in order to stay on the market. Intelligent production is needed, meaning the appropriate use of resources, based on strategy, but also reacting to events and correcting plans. And all this requires up-to-date and easily accessible information. That is why words such as connected, smart, intelligent or advanced crop up each time.

Data management

Let’s say that we manage a company which has five factories throughout Europe, equipped with over 70 machines. A client is looking for a subcontractor to produce half a million items. The customer, like always of course, is counting on a low price and short turnaround time.

Here’s an example of the procedure:

  1. We input data into our system
  • the system analyzes the data available in the cloud from all factories,
  • we get information on how many machines we have free, how many of them have spare capacity, and how many are already working at 100%,
  • we get information about priorities and deadlines, thanks to which we can also free up several machines working on an order with a long-term delivery deadline.
  1. We choose machines for the production process.
  • the system checks the status of raw material warehouses, and shows which factories can start production immediately, how much material and where to order, as well as possible delivery times,
  • the system checks the prices of materials, and calculates the purchase costs and delivery times based on the data provided by our suppliers,
  • initial orders are automatically generated for particular factories, which will wait for the final decision from the customer,
  • the system calculates the cost of production of a single product for the customer, adds a margin to give us a final unit price, and also calculates the production end date with an indication of current and soon-to-be-available processing capacities, material supplies and delivery dates,
  • the logistics module will help indicate when and how we can deliver finished products from each factory directly to the customer.
  1. We get an offer ready for the client.

As we can see, with a well-designed system, we are able to return to the customer with all information regarding the price and possible deadline in just a few moments. In a business environment in which the earliest bidder wins, such a system is indispensable.

And most importantly – such systems are no longer the stuff of science fiction. These solutions could be seen at the stands of the largest industrial machine manufacturers at EuroBLECH. Of course development is still ongoing, and also requires refinement from the customer’s side, integration with existing systems, etc., but this revolution can’t be stopped anymore. In my opinion, at next year’s fair, exhibitors will already be able to boast of successful implementations of these types of systems for their clients.

Automation and acceleration of production

The second trend which is clearly visible at the fair is producers’ efforts to accelerate and improve production. We have already seen the automatic loading of material and the collection of finished products in previous years, but now it is a faster, more accurate, more effective and fully customizable process.

In addition, there is the desire to connect machines with production chains, meaning that raw material is delivered on one side of the production line, and on the other hand we get a cut, bent and welded product – everything happens without human involvement. The dangerous and hard work of human hands is replaced by robots and automatic trolleys. Humans will simply supervise from an air-conditioned control room and respond to possible problems reported by the machines.

Pay to win

Does this kind of future await all companies? If not all of them, then the vast majority, although it might take some time. But Industry 4.0 solutions already offer a gigantic competitive advantage. Every major manufacturer, with many factories and machines, will implement this type of solution, or create its own. In the gaming industry, we would call this “P2W” (pay to win), because the advantage gained from “smart” solutions is really significant at this point.

To sum up, EuroBLECH is an event well worth visiting. Even if you aren’t employed in the metal industry, you can make some really interesting contacts there – many companies at the fair have a much wider range of products than just the machines and solutions presented at the stand. But if we work in the automation, metal or IT industries, this event should be inked in on our calendar each year. JCommerce will definitely be at EuroBLECH next year as well, so let us know if you want to catch up!

Read more about advanced Industry 4.0 solutions. >>

Grzegorz Sikorski

Grzegorz Sikorski

PLC Technical Leader

PLC Technical Leader at JCommerce, specializing in solutions for industrial, process and machine automation.