New opportunities and challenges through Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 - Connecting globally for the plastics industry of the future

Automation in the plastics industry is becoming more complex, the pace of innovation is accelerating, and competitive pressure is increasing. Open and safe automation makes it possible to combine traditional mechanical engineering with the latest Industry 4.0 technologies.

In the age of Industry 4.0 (I4.0), injection molding machine manufacturers face numerous challenges: With innovation cycles becoming frequently shorter, the market demands a broad portfolio of new technologies that need to be integrated quickly and easily. At the same time, these systems must be scalable, highly flexible and future-proof. With 50 years of experience, the automation specialist KEBA offers I4.0 solutions for the plastics industry, which enable worldwide connectivity with cloud-based data management and smart IT integration. Both the hardware and software of the KePlast control systems are optimized for injection molding machines. They offer numerous communication standards such as OPC UA and EUROMAP 77, fast and secure data storage for predictive analytics and maintenance as well as further customer-specific adaptations in the areas of human-machine interface (HMI) and design.

Software solutions from KePlast enable the worldwide networking of all machines and production sites

Understanding the language of the industry
and apply it properly

For KEBA, the phenomenon of Industry 4.0 is not a fad, but a living reality. The company points out, which possibilities the new technologies offer and how they can be successively and future-proof expanded. This is particularly evident in the user-friendly applications from the product range of 'KePlast Smart Industry'. According to plastics automation expert Günther Weilguny, the topic of Industry 4.0 is not quite easy to grasp: "The term 'Industry 4.0' has been on everyone's lips for several years now. However, only very few can formulate it in concrete terms, what exactly I4.0 means for the plastics industry. It is certain that the implementation of I4.0 technologies requires an automation specialist with profound expertise in hard- and, above all, software". The KEBA technologies are based on a Linux-based platform with a strong community in the background, as Weilguny continues. Due to this open and secure platform, the KePlast controllers can be upgraded at any time from a basic system to a high-end system and can be supplemented with several functionalities and further smart assistance systems. This makes the control solutions future-safe.

50 years of experience provide the foresight in the plastics industry and for industry trends

Global production monitoring
for maximum productivity

The MES (Manufacturing Execution System) optimized for the plastics industry - KePlast EasyNet - is one of these smart solutions. It offers manufacturers of injection molding machines and, subsequently, medium-sized plastics processing companies a program for cost-optimized and reliable connection of the machines on a global scale. The recorded data of the production is stored in a central database, ensuring short response times and corresponding productivity. This involves various monitoring functions at a glance, for instance, the quality of the components produced, the overall productivity, and the corresponding production status (Figure 1). With this secure, cloud-based MES solution, the processes for the plastics processing company can be optimized, whether through on-site application or on mobile devices. One of the challenges of Industry 4.0 is the provision of highly complex technologies in the form of simple integration at the injection molding machine manufacturer and also at the end customer. "Industry 4.0 must not only be something for the big players among the plastics processors but must also be made available for small and medium-sized enterprises - the simple and cost-optimized implementation of I4.0 technologies for everyone is the true art of automation," says Weilguny.

Depending on the application and company size, various options are available. On the one hand, all KEBA controls for injection molding machines - from KePlast i1000 to KePlast i8000 - are compatible with the OPC UA and EUROMAP 77 communication standards; on the other hand, the smart MES offers simple, fast and user-friendly integration, especially for KEBA, controls without extensive training (Figure 2). After a short time, an MES investment pays for itself. Weilguny explains: "The profitability or return on investment is already apparent in the first year of the investment of our MES. This is achieved among other things by increasing machine efficiency and reducing downtimes as well as by optimized recording of production data and increased production quality".

Figure 1: The MES (Manufacturing Execution System) provides various monitoring functions at a glance the quality of the components produced, for example, the production status or productivity

Figure 2: The smart MES offers a simple, fast and user-friendly Integration without costly training

Smart IT integration - simple
and future-proof

The technology integration is based on the "Open Platform" architecture of the KePlast overall solution (Figure 3). This platform offers a compact and turnkey automation solution, which can nevertheless be extended modularly, customer-specifically and arbitrarily. Due to the open hardware and software solutions, which are very flexible and scalable, there is a freedom of design for the implementation of customer-specific and individual I4.0 solutions that make it easier to integrate various assistance systems. This communication is supported by the latest standard protocols, such as OPC UA, in combination with established fieldbus systems such as EtherCAT. The automation expert Günther Weilguny is convinced that injection moulding machine manufacturers who build on future-proof platforms will gain a competitive advantage.

Through the partnership with KEBA, the injection molding machine manufacturer benefits by having an expert at its side who plays a pioneering role in various areas, including the integration of open and secure Linux-based technologies, the implementation of solutions at the interface between operator and injection molding machine, and the integration of other cloud-based assistance systems". 'KePlast Smart Industry' consists of the KePlast ServiceNet, which enables worldwide access to the machine and, with the aid of a video-supported helpdesk, rapid problem solving by an expert. The KePlast AppCo generates the appropriate machine software from a superordinate database to simplify production processes. KePlast EasyNet Mobile (Figure 4) is used to visualize machine productivity on mobile devices and is understood as MES for small and medium-sized companies. In addition, the KePlast systems are based on the open, modular, and secure KEBA control platform KeControl FlexCore, which enables customer-specific adaptations at all levels and offers a high degree of individualization.

Figure 3: Due to their open architecture the KEBA controls from a basic system to a high-end system rearm

The opportunities of digital

Industry 4.0 in the plastics industry is based not only on global connectivity and the provision of mass data but also on digital transformation. This goes one step further than digitization and leads to the reinvention of existing business models as well as to an understanding of how the market situation changes due to the entry of new protagonists. Many injection moulding machine manufacturers have difficulties with digital transformation, as a changeover often involves a conflict of interest between existing and new corporate values. It is, therefore, all the more important here to find a way with a partner that makes it easier to unite both worlds user-friendly, fast, and with as few interfaces as possible.

According to automation expert Weilguny, injection moulding machine manufacturers can only be future-proof if they rely on an open and secure hardware and software platform that allows traditional mechanical engineering to be combined with the latest I4.0 technologies. Weilguny concludes: "Tens of thousands of machines are in use worldwide that appear somewhat outdated in the conventional sense. One of the greatest challenges for automation manufacturers is to equip or upgrade all end customers for the future and prepare them accordingly for potential market requirements. The goal is that the industry 4.0 phenomenon will not remain a trend for the big players, but will also become a living reality for small and medium-sized enterprises".

Figure 4: With the cloud-based MES solution, the processes at plastics manufacturers companies can be optimized on site or on the move

Discover the KePlast system

The KePlast system is a turnkey solution that can be upgraded at any time. In addition, the Linux-based platform enables individual adaptations in hardware and software as well as the simple implementation and smart integration of third-party applications.

KePlast systems are optimized for plastics injection molding machines

More about the article for the magazine 'Kunststoffe'

This article appears in the June issue of the print magazine Kunststoffe with an edition of 17,000 copies and online at

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