Sirris experts talk about 4.0 Made Real Pilot Factory by Sirris

On 7 November Sirris launches its new 4.0 Made Real Pilot Factory in Hasselt and Liège. This unique concept aims to make Industry 4.0 tangible for SMEs. A lot of Sirris experts with different specialisations are involved in this project. We asked four of them to explain the initiative.

Why a 4.0 Made Real Pilot Factory?

“Industry 4.0 is new. It is difficult for the average SME to get an idea about what this could mean for them in practice. To help SMEs with this, we have converted the application lab at our site in Hasselt into a production environment, where all possible aspects that manufacturing companies have to deal with in practice are discussed. Moreover, as far as additive manufacturing is concerned, this environment works together with our site in Liège, which acts as an external supplier. Hence the name of our program: we make Industry 4.0 a reality, make 4.0 real,” starts Bart Verlinden, Program Manager Smart & Digital Factory.

“Industry 4.0 stands for a higher level of connectivity between the different parts of a factory. This means that the entire production chain is digitized. The evolution towards digitisation is taking place very fast. We started the 4.0 Made Real initiative on the basis of our daily contacts: a lot of SMEs told us that they couldn’t see the wood for the trees anymore. The market is responding to digitisation with numerous solutions, but the implementation is still rather limited, because companies - despite or because of this enormous offer - do not know how and where to start digitising their production. To help them find answers to their questions, we started building our own digital factory,” said Peter ten Haaf, Precision Manufacturing Program Manager.

“Additive manufacturing is a digital technique in itself, which involves a lot of data, but usually involves stand-alone machines on the production floor. Linking these to other production machines in the production chain and using the data is actually what Industry 4.0 is about, but in practice it is not so obvious, because all too often it leads to non-integrated 3D printing machines on the shop floor,” continues Benjamin Denayer, Additive Manufacturing Team Leader.

“Capturing and using process data is important when it comes to additive manufacturing, from the very beginning of the powders, because it enables traceability over the entire production process, which is something the quality guarantee will definitely benefit from. This guarantee is requested by both suppliers and users of 3D printed parts. The machines must be connected for this. During our workshops in our labs in Liège with machines from different suppliers, it has already become clear that it is difficult to interconnect machines to make them communicate with each other, because of the different protocols and programming languages that are used. Solutions are available on the market, but they are supplier-specific or are not within reach of SMEs. Nevertheless, for the sake of quality assurance through traceability, it is essential to connect additive manufacturing machines with the rest of the production chain. We want to find out how this can be achieved,” concludes Olivier Rigo, Additive Manufacturing Team Leader.

What does this mean in practice?

“We wanted to ask ourselves the same questions as SMEs in their transition from analogue to digital production. We started from our existing pilot setup, which we first adapted, and now continue to develop and expand with new technologies such as cobot polishing and vibration polishing, a kitting and assembly cell, up to a complete and representative Industry 4.0 production environment, from order to shipment. We opted for the production of a product we already knew - a watch - that we can personalise, at a relatively low production cost. Just like in an average production company, we have different machines of different brands, not all of which can be connected. Not only have we taken on the challenges of everyday life one by one, we have even been looking for possible obstacles and their potential solutions. Based on our experience, we do not offer companies take-it-or-leave-it solutions, but different possibilities to respond to everyone’s personal situation. In order to achieve the most realistic scenario, the casings of the watches are manufactured by additive manufacturing in the Liège plant and then shipped to Hasselt, with the intention of providing the products with an eID,” says Peter ten Haaf.

“At our Liège branch, we investigate how we can collect and store all production and control data during the production thanks to an eID - a digital product passport that contains production data and enables traceability. It is our goal to store all data on this digital passport, across the various companies, and that data can also be added. We are also looking at capturing more process data, simulating the additive manufacturing process in advance and also being able to store this information via the eID,” Benjamin Denayer continues.

Olivier: “Traceability via such an eID is also important for the ultimate quality guarantee. After all, research has already shown that, for example, the origin of a material such as aluminium or the level of humidity during storage can have an influence on the quality of the powders, and therefore also on the end product. We want to capture and register all data concerning origin, storage, bulk material, every process step, process and material stability. This information goes along with the product throughout the chain,” Olivier Rigo continues.

Peter: “Thanks to such an eID, the entire history of a product must be traceable and each partner involved in the chain must be able to add production data. This allows for any problems to be traced quickly and precisely,” Peter ten Haaf adds.

What is so unique about the 4.0 Made Real Pilot Factory that companies cannot find it anywhere else?

“Everyone is currently working on Industry 4.0 and there are many solutions available, but often it is just a partial solution, a demo or something fancy on paper. We want to bring everything together in one real production environment, where we can investigate everything and give companies the most complete and realistic picture of the real situation, tailored to the needs of SMEs. We build more than just a demonstrator: it is a test environment in which companies, suppliers and our experts can test and further develop new and existing products and machines,” Bart Verlinden says.

“We can do more than just show interested companies what we have achieved so far, they can come to us and experiment on our pilot factory. Based on our experience, we offer them different options and solutions, depending on what fits best in their context and situation. Also providers who want to take their solutions to the market can test, demonstrate and further develop their innovation here,” Peter ten Haaf explains.

“At the Liège site, we are working to improve the quality assurance of 3D printed parts for component and technology suppliers and users, by monitoring the entire process chain via the eID. This allows the capacity of the AM process to be proven against traditional technologies, increasing confidence. In addition, we are investigating ways to generate less scrap by using the process data captured by sensors for process simulations. This allows us to check in advance whether a piece can be manufactured using additive manufacturing, what can go wrong, what the properties will be, etc. This information can also be stored in the eID,” says Olivier Rigo.

Where does the 4.0 Made Real story go from here?

“We are currently working on the connection and digitisation of the various production steps. The next step is to zoom in on the different processes and machines and generate data from them thanks to the expansion of the current data capture methods and the introduction of intelligent data analysis algorithms, in order to be able to control and adjust the processes. In this way, we want to be able to monitor and adjust the processes in real time in the long term. We work together with various technology partners on the further development and testing of their solutions. We want to gradually expand this number of partners as new developments come onto the market,” Peter ten Haaf explains.

“We also want to further expand our monitoring methods for additive manufacturing, including onsite monitoring of the weld pool for an initial quality control and an in-house monitoring system for powder,” says Olivier Rigo.

“All new developments will gradually be integrated and implemented in our test environment, which is mainly aimed at conducting feasibility studies. We will also set up training programmes for SMEs, allowing these companies can gain sufficient hands-on knowledge and experience to start working in their own factory.” With these words Bart Verlinden concludes our panel discussion.

Do you want to discover for yourself what the 4.0 Made Real Pilot Factory can do for you? Come to the launch in Hasselt and Liège on 7 November!

This article is part of our ‘4.0 made real by Sirris’ campaign, illustrating the feasibility of 4.0 technology in industry. Want to know more? Visit our 4.0 Made Real page or LinkedIn page!