Siemens Bulgaria is part of Siemens AG – a world leader in the manufacturing of innovative products, technologies and solutions in the fields of electrification, automation and digitalization. The company is a leading supplier of combined cycle turbines for power generation, a major provider of power transmission solutions and a pioneer in infrastructure solutions as well as automation, drive and software solutions for industry. Siemens is also a leading provider of medical imaging equipment and a leader in laboratory diagnostics as well as clinical IT.
In Bulgaria the company has been present for more than 135 years. Today Siemens Bulgaria has nearly 500 employees. The company’s aim is to improve the quality of life and provide products and services that move the world forward.
In recent years Industry 4.0 is on everybody’s lips. What exactly does it mean?
The term Industry 4.0 was presented to the public for the first time in 2011 at the Hanover Messe, the largest industrial fair in Germany. It summarizes the vision of the German government for the future of manufacturing, when the pervasive networking of people, products, and machines will create a completely new production environment, reaping huge benefits in the form of improved quality, lower costs, increased efficiency and customizability.
The idea of Industry 4.0 is focused on smart products, smart procedures and smart production. In this vision, the worlds of real and virtual manufacturing merge in order to ensure a long-term defendable competitive position.
In intelligent factories of the future, machines, raw materials, and products are connected through the “Internet of Things”. Factories are largely able to control and optimize production, while their products communicate with one another and with production systems with the ultimate goal to run production processes as smoothly and efficiently as possible and detect any potential failures. Independently operating computer programs monitor every single step, creating a networked, flexible, and dynamically self-organizing manufacturing process for highly customizable products. That is the vision for the Fourth Industrial Revolution shared by Siemens AG as part of its mission to trailblaze the future of industry.
What determines the current speed of penetration of digitalization in production processes, which forms the basis of Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 concept merges classic industrial processes with the evolutionary changes brought by the modern information technologies in order to answer the customers’ needs of improved flexibility and decreased time to market along with reduced energy and resource consumption.
Even now, the industries are more and more impacted by the software solutions and the penetration of Internet, changing the whole value creation process. The components, tools, machines, and conveyor systems in today’s advanced, automated factories are already equipped with sensors and communication systems that share and analyze a huge amount of data every single second in order to manufacture mass-produced products quickly, flexibly and efficiently. Over the next 15 to 20 years, this process is expected to further expand and gain speed all over the world, driven by the increased need of digitalization and automatization of production. The result will significantly change the paradigm of manufacturing as we know it.
How is Siemens pioneering these developments?
Long before the term of Industry 4.0 was presented to the public, Siemens had laid the groundwork for the digitalization of industries. The introduction of Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) in the mid-90s enabled companies to coordinate the components of their production processes and closely integrate their software and hardware. In 2007 Siemens introduced a comprehensive portfolio of PLM (product lifecycle management) software products, aimed to optimize the whole process of product development. The design, prototype development, and simulation take place in the virtual world so that development times as well as potential costs can be greatly reduced.
Siemens PLM software was successfully used by NASA throughout the complete design, testing and development of the latest Mars Rover – “Curiosity”. PLM software NASA engineers engineers to virtually test and assemble all of the rover’s components and simulate how “Curiosity” would operate on the Red Planet in the most realistic way.
Similarly, the Formula 1 car of the world champion Sebastian Vettel was also modified using Siemens software in order to meet new racing requirements of the automotive association FIA. The advanced features of PLM portfolio enabled engineers of the Infiniti Red Bull racing team to design and virtually test new components in record time, just at the click of a mouse.
The Mars rover and the race car were manufactured only once — a batch size of one. They are nonetheless indicators of a global trend toward making products increasingly specific and in line with the customer’s individual wishes by simulating real-life production environments. Siemens makes a point by using these cutting-edge technologies in its own factories. A harbinger of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already humming away in the small Bavarian city of Amberg. The Amberg Electronics Plant is a trend-setting example of Siemens’ Digital Enterprise Platform — a production environment that could become standard ten years from now. Here, products already communicate with production machines, and IT systems control and optimize all processes to ensure the lowest possible defect rate. Their product codes tell production machines what requirements they have and which production steps must be taken next. This networked production environment marks the first leap toward the emergence of Industry 4.0.
How can Central and Eastern Europe fit into this vision?
Unfortunately, we have to admit that our region is often lagging behind in terms of technological innovation. But although at the moment the prospect seems quite remote, Central and Eastern Europe can not remain outside the global processes of digitalization and networking of technologies.
At the global level there are still challenges to overcome before the vision of Industry 4.0 becomes a reality. The currently emerging requirements for cyber-physical systems (CPS) and the Internet of Things are very difficult to be realized with today’s technical data infrastructures . Many barriers must be eliminated in terms of the inconsistent data silos, significant differences between various industries and the reflection of their characteristics in the software platforms, missing standards and openness. Tools and communication structures need to be availed that permit the digital company to fuse with the real one or at least to interact as fully as possible.
Despite years of investments and research by Siemens and other leading IT companies in this direction, the necessary technological preconditions for Industry 4.0 cannot be created ad-hoc or with the efforts of a single company or even a country. It could only become a reality step-by-step, with the consistent contributions of the manufacturers, researchers and users. And the technology companies in CEE can both benefit and contribute to the future of manufacturing.