PEOPLE | Jun 13, 2017

The role of data in Industry 4.0: interview with Massimo Ippolito of Comau

How important are data, sharing, efficiency, speed of action and security in the digital transformation of factories?

According to IDC, the intelligent factory is already a reality: by 2022, in fact, 40% of operating processes will be able to auto-learn and therefore auto-repair. This is only possible by means of a digital transformation process that radically modifies processes, aiming to maximise the opportunities resulting from a proper analysis of the vast quantity of data collected by connecting objects within the factory.

Massimo Ippolito, the innovation manager of Comau, leading multinational in the robotics sector, explains clearly the difficulties (and the way to overcome them) encountered by factories in the transformation process and highlights the objectives of the DIWO project, which enables an approach to the problematic issue by small pieces,  which, put together as in a puzzle, allow businesses of different sizes to address the digitisation process by degrees and in a customised manner.

In your opinion, what are the difficulties encountered by industries in digital transformation processes? How should they deal with them?

The ability to create a dialogue between different solutions and systems is a complex issue that needs to be tackled jointly with suppliers and technology manufacturers. Currently, Comau and Engineering are already working to develop hardware and software tools capable of putting traditional production systems in communication with the new Industry 4.0 tools.

Another key requirement for the Digital Transformation is the availability of an advanced connection to allow data and information to be managed in perfect mobility, making it available to people or machines where needed, both easily and in real-time. Comau and Engineering follow all these technologies with great interest. The projects that the company is conducting in the field of digitisation of industrial processes are developed in collaboration with major Italian or foreign universities, such as the Polytechnics in Turin and Milan and Technische Universität München in Germany, but also in partnership with leading international companies in their respective market sectors.

Technology is not enough however, Digital Transformation also requires a transformation in culture and skills. Comau promotes specialised training programs through its own Academy, in collaboration with some of the best international universities and business schools. In March 2017 we inaugurated a new executive Master degree in “Manufacturing Automation & Digital Transformation”, in collaboration with the ESCP business school, dedicated to developing the technical and management skills needed to design and manage increasingly innovative industrial automation solutions.

Do you believe that the measures provided in the Industry 4.0 plan may be of help? What is still needed?

The measures put in place, including the incentives, are producing positive effects. In the Industry 4.0 Plan the centres of expertise are recognised as playing a key role. A further step could be to create places within these centres of excellence where the solutions linked to Digital Transformation can be seen and touched.

What role do Big Data, Advanced Analytics, and Deep Learning have in the fourth industrial revolution?

The major benefits that Big Data, Advanced Analytics and Deep Learning can provide in the manufacturing industry are increased efficiency in work methodologies and increased business productivity. Just consider the benefits for example that can be provided by predictive maintenance in a factory setting. Having constant information on the health status of machinery allows companies to anticipate possible breakdowns or the need for extraordinary maintenance before an unexpected failure or even a machine shutdown occurs. This way of working not only allows production to be optimised, but above all, the rationalisation of intervention costs on the technologies available. On the other hand, predictive maintenance also improves maintenance procedures themselves: being able to access information on the real-time workflow of machinery by means of mobile devices, it is possible to remotely support the maintenance engineer during the technical service operations.

What are the innovative aspects of the DIWO project? Which companies does the solution apply to?

Research & Development activities are geared towards the implementation of Plug-and-Play modules, systems and solutions. The starting point for this new generation of production processes is the intelligent collection and analysis of data, in particular, a procedure that simplifies and optimises, thus integrating with people’s work and production processes in an open, efficient and smart manner.

The building blocks of this intelligent data collection and analysis consist of advanced components such as DIWO Box, DIWO Virtual Plant, DIWO Maps, DIWO Analytics and DIWO HMI modules; software applications capable of continuous interaction with the machines, all equipped with specific autonomy features, which operate on unstructured or poorly structured data, in which the various environmental situations are not fully known beforehand.

Thanks to the Private Cloud Platform, the DIWO project focuses mainly on services for small and medium-sized businesses.

Sharing, efficiency, speed of action and security have now become the key stakes in digital transformation; the use of a set of services that are delivered through Network hosting, allowing SMEs to access plant machinery and process information directly from a mobile phone or tablet, wherever you may be, using an IT infrastructure owned by Engineering and Comau. Thanks to the Private Cloud Platform, it is possible to increase or decrease computing and storage resources in real time and according to the workload. The major advantage for small and medium-sized businesses is the ability to only pay for what is actually used. With the Private Cloud formula, the use of IT resources is calculated analytically. Businesses therefore need only bear the costs in function of their workload, no longer having to maintain their own IT infrastructure.

Sonia Montegiove