One of the main articles in October 2017’s issue of Castings SA featured a story on how Atlantis Foundries have embarked on a process that will pave the way to becoming a Smart Foundry by embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 that it is more commonly known as. The project at Atlantis Foundries aims to combine various technologies available to gather and analyse process data, with the aim of improving product quality and cost efficiency.
One might say that this is how any business should be run and that should have been the basic principle you should adopt when setting up a business. After all we are in business to make profits and the only way you can do that is having a quality product and/or service that is not outstripped by the costs. Attracting clients and keeping them happy by delivering does play a role as well!
The first thing to understand about Industry 4.0 is it is not one technology but a combination of modern technologies combined to create a ‘Smart factory’. The modern technologies include advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, data capture and analytics, digital fabrication (including 3D printing), software-as-a-service and other new marketing models, smartphones and other mobile devices, platforms that use algorithms and the embedding of all these elements in an interoperable global value chain, shared by many companies from many countries.
At first this sounds extreme but when you start to look at the possibilities it is easy to see how these technologies can become real game-changers. In a previous column I even questioned the concept as being one of hype or, as I asked, does it add real value?
Industry 4.0 is a German led initiative and the train of thought is to create smarter, more efficient manufacturing through the use of Smart factories. The big question is how can we utilise these new technologies within the foundry industry and what are the benefits? This means change lies ahead for all companies – including foundries.
Atlantis Foundries’ management must be congratulated on being one of the first foundries in South Africa, probably even in the world, to begin implementing Industry 4.0. The basic building blocks for such a concept are robotics, process instrumentation, and the tracking of components using RFID and other software applications. With all the data available and it being traceable to individual castings, the door has opened to enable the use of Artificial Intelligence for process control and inspection of components.
Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (one cannot operate without the other) are certainly taking hold. The integral role technology now plays across industries will transform how companies operate in the future. It has been hailed as the fourth industrial revolution, in the course of which physical and virtual worlds connect. Tomorrow’s interconnected factories will offer new opportunities for optimisation and will reduce energy consumption and waste at all stages of production, to name a few.
The article on Atlantis Foundries has attracted many views on the Castings SA website, has been read worldwide and even received an accolade from a German foundry Internet platform that awarded Atlantis Foundries as their Foundry of the Week. And it also appears as the number one on the Google rankings for the search term ‘Foundries embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution’.
The great publicity that the Atlantis Foundries article has created for the South African foundry industry is what this magazine is all about. I am pleased to say that another forward thinking foundry in South Africa has approached me to run an article on them because they too are implementing the concept. But this time the foundry is a pressure die casting foundry. I look forward to running the article in a future issue and reminding the rest of the world that South Africa is open for business despite the many obstacles that are thrown at us.