The Rise of Industry 4.0 in the Nonwovens Industry

Industry 4.0 has been a hot topic among nonwovens machinery and equipment suppliers over the last several years. Large-scale M2M (machine-to-machine) technologies and IoT (Internet of Things) operations are helping manufacturers offer increased automation, as well as improved monitoring and communication. With Industry 4.0, machines in factories the world over are able to quickly analyze and communicate with each other and with employees and customers.

“One of the primary benefits of early-stage Industry 4.0 is that it provides customers with the real-time information needed to make better decisions in critical business areas such as reducing operating costs, boosting productivity, and improving equipment reliability,” says Todd Dietz, general manager of Osprey Corporation, a leader in process air filtration and recycling systems for the soft disposables industry.

Customers can receive this information through push notifications, which alert them to equipment issues as they start to happen, so they experience less downtime and reduced maintenance costs. Also, Dietz adds, data analytics enable customers to operate the equipment more efficiently than before, and with increased productivity.

Osprey started to design its Industry 4.0 solution, OspreyCONNECT, in late 2015 and implemented the first version of it in April 2016. Several years before the launch of OspreyCONNECT, it was already using remote maintenance services to allow its technicians in Atlanta, GA, to diagnose and troubleshoot equipment in the field around the world. “Our equipment was already equipped with several sensors, but the information from the sensors was only being viewed and acted on when there was a known problem,” Dietz explains. “We realized that we could better serve our customers by building a platform that would take the sensor data and operating information from the machine, analyze it, and present it to the customer in a meaningful way. When we first started, there were not many companies in our industry doing what we were trying to do. We searched out as many IoT companies as we could find, and were able to discuss strategies with a few different machine manufacturers that were also in the early stages of IoT implementation.”

Most of Osprey’s early decisions were based on internal brainstorming sessions and preliminary discussions with its customers to determine what would provide the most value. Since data storage and security are big hurdles for any IoT solution, Osprey partnered with a cloud-based software company that was already established in this area.

Osprey’s machinery already included an industrial router solution that allowed it to connect to the cloud, but in the process of increasing its capabilities in regard to the Industry 4.0 concept, its first step was to increase the number of sensors and the sensor technology to better capture all aspects of the machine operation to allow for better analytics, Dietz says.

“For example, energy consumption is a big concern for our customers, so we added power (energy) monitoring devices that allow us to track energy usage and correlate energy usage to different operating conditions,” he explains. “We have recently added provisions for a ‘virtual mentor.’ This feature allows the Atlanta based staff to see what the field technician is seeing, and to send required documentation or information directly to the technician through a headset. We are also testing an augmented reality solution to assist with the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) of our equipment.”

Meanwhile, Italian machinery specialist A.Celli’s attitude has always been to look ahead, beyond the state of the art, on the horizon of an approach devoted to innovation, evolution and automation in the most extreme sense of the term, according to Francesco Vergentini, chief operations officer, A.Celli Nonwovens.

In 2016, the company decided to organize a division dedicated to the development of systems oriented towards Industry 4.0 by setting up Extreme Automation. Based on a “think out of the box” vision, A.Celli was able to create a “rich” environment that allows it to freely develop innovative solutions according to a new perspective that goes beyond the patterns of everyday business.

“Rich with ideas, visions and challenges. Rich in resources, young people, graduates, specialized in big data analysis, IT infrastructure, machine learning and artificial intelligence, having the opportunity to belong to a relevant area from an academic point of view [by] being able to boast valuable collaborations with associations of specialists, polytechnics and universities,” Vergentini says.

The work of A.Celli and Extreme Automation, focused mainly on smart management of the data acquired during the production phase, seeks to be a contribution towards improving the quality of the final product.

“With the information acquired from the machines, the new business model seeks to improve the main features set by the market, such as the profile, shape and the properties of the reels,” he explains.

Another important aspect that A.Celli aims to effectively manage is the concept of repeatability, in terms of production efficiency and results. “This means that the quality will be constant and repetitive and will no longer depend on the human factor or external conditions and the analysis of the data will have the objective of productive efficiency in terms of throughput, quantity of waste, energy consumption, etc.,” Vergentini adds.

A.Celli’s first two plants designed and built thanks to Industry 4.0 implementation are scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2019.

“These orders, currently in beta testing in our laboratories, are our concrete opportunity of offering solutions and strategies for personalized and high efficiency production,” Vergentini says.

Specifically, the company plans to implement machine-learning technologies aimed at predictive maintenance and in favor of optimizing the machine’s working parameters. These specific developments are combined with other solutions, high digitization and connectivity, which will be activated very shortly, according to Vergentini.

Meanwhile, nonwovens machinery expert Andritz completed its first OPP (Optimization of Process Control) contract, which was its first IIoT solution for industrial applications—a system to optimize equipment and plants in the pulp and paper industry—in 2007, and has continued to improve its OPP technology further ever since then on the basis of customer experience.

The OPP system detects any anomalies and deviations in pulp and paper production by analyzing production data. Sheet breaks or other adverse effects on production can thus be predicted at an early stage. As a result, countermeasures can be implemented in good time, guaranteeing reliable production and also optimizing operations, including the use of resources. Now Andritz has developed OPP further for use in other business areas, like the nonwovens sector, and is offering solutions for different branches of industry. The technologies used are adapted to the requirements and needs of each individual customer.

“The Nonwoven Division at Andritz is gaining extensive know-how in the field of IIoT with the support of the dedicated Andritz department for OPP,” says Andreas Lukas, senior vice president and division manager of Andritz Nonwoven. “An internal Andritz Nonwoven organization has been created with a pool of experts for IIoT and will be extended with further resources to meet all customer requirements. Moreover, we are focusing on continuous development and improvement of some installations using this technology.”

According to Lukas, companies have high expectations of the greater plant efficiency and increased profitability that can be gained by networking machines and applying such technologies as smart sensors, big data analytics, and visualization using augmented reality. Andritz has pooled its many years of experience and developed attractive overall solutions for existing and new plants, marketed and sold under a new umbrella technology brand: Metris.

Also, the Andritz Nonwoven technical centers in France and Germany are fully involved in Andritz’s digital activities and will be upgraded with IIoT equipment, like smart sensors for data analysis and process monitoring, in order to have the right digital solutions for their customers’ needs.

“For example, the Andritz neXtrend monitoring system for nonwoven calenders is well prepared for Industry 4.0 and will be a part of the overall Metris brand,” Lukas explains. “Customers can monitor conditions in their machines and equipment and prepare their maintenance schedule in advance thanks to smart sensors. Continuous and constant monitoring ensures top quality by means of automation, and excellent process transparency is guaranteed.”

With the Metris products and solutions, Andritz provides its customers with solutions that fully meet their digital challenges. The use of Andritz IIoT solutions avoids unforeseen shutdowns and damage, while improving the plant’s overall availability. When the operating components are used for the maximum period possible, much less spare parts need to be kept in stock. With its remote support service, Andritz can provide comprehensive advice on customers’ equipment. This predictive maintenance forecasts the probability of future functional issues and displays where they will occur.

For Valmet, a global developer and supplier of technologies, automation and services for the pulp, paper and energy industries, the implementation of Industry 4.0 concepts has been evolutionary. “We can say that Valmet has been involved with this evolution since the digitalization of analog devices began in the 60s and into the 70s,” says Seyhan Nuyan, director – Automation Applications & Sales, Valmet.

Valmet advanced digitalization of its technology very quickly, so that by the mid 1970s it had most of its products digitized. At the same time, new designs were also taking advantage of the digital world during that decade.

“Since digitalization first started, Valmet has been collecting and analyzing data, taking advantage of innovative techniques to provide information to users for better decision making, trouble-shooting, alerting, managing assets, benchmarking and optimizing operation of their processes, and as the communication industry began developing more advanced tools, we began to offer the above as remote services,” Nuyan adds.

Valmet Industrial Internet capabilities rely on four building blocks: Process technology, automation and IT platform, applications and services, and an ecosystem of partners.

Its intelligent process technology is equipped with sensors and measurement devices that gather important data from machines and processes. Valmet’s automation system provides a solid data source. Combining this with data from other mill and plant systems, creates an enormous amount of data. “Based on our know-how in process technology, automation and services, Valmet experts can identify which data is relevant to analyze and how it can be utilized. This know-how is built into our Industrial Internet applications and services,” says Jari Almi, director – Industrial Internet, Valmet.

Valmet’s Industrial Internet, which provides advanced and networked real-time data analytics and utilization, impacts all stages of the production process and benefits the whole business. It enhances asset management and increases user value by making both process and operations more effective. Increased productivity, lower energy and raw material costs, and overall machine efficiency improvement through preventive maintenance are some of the measurable benefits as a result, Almi explains.

Available to its customers is asset reliability optimization, which includes online monitoring, predictive and prescriptive diagnostics as well as data analysis to improve mill and plant efficiency, to help plan timely maintenance, and to prevent unplanned shutdowns. Meanwhile, operations performance optimization concentrates on integrating data from different systems together with production data to optimize mill and plant operations. It also includes optimization services for individual processes and the whole machine fleet.

“Through access to Valmet experts for problem-solving and process development, our customers expect to better allocate their own resources for running the daily operations,” Almi says.
Teknoweb Converting, which provides manufacturing solutions for the wet wipes industry, began implementing Industry 4.0 framework many years ago, according to Guido Conio, chief commercial officer.

Initially, Teknoweb’s platform was based on data exchange to allow machines interoperability (exchange data between machines and enterprise systems) and remote assistance (to maintain machines remotely). But last year Teknoweb used its experience in the Industry 4.0 concept to launch The Connected Wipes tool.

Teknoweb’s The Connected Wipes project is based on customization for the wet wipes world of IoT framework, such as machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with each other wirelessly and continuously; cloud technology, where all data collected from machines are stored and analyzed in order to be viewed and used from virtually anywhere and by a typical smart unit such as a PC, tablet or phone; and data analytics technology such as the capability of turning gathered data into actionable information.

“All technologies converge in a real and full Manufacture Execution System (MES),” Conio says.

In general, The Connected Wipes tool is able to boost its customers Return on Investment (ROI) gaining continuous improvements leveraging their own real time data, Conio claims. “It has the power to turn wealth of business and production data into manufacturing intelligence beyond a simple data collector system.”

Specifically, The Connected Wipes tool is able to analyze asset optimization to make sure a customer is operating at peak performance and maximize uptime. Also, by digitizing quality control, such as through sensors and analytics, will help enhance product safety and compliance. The tool also helps customers automate manual processes by enforcing standardized work flows to improve productivity, maximize quality, and lower variability and production costs. Another beneficial aspect is the ability to monitor employee capabilities to help properly qualify people to what is required and when it is necessary. Finally, implementing track-and-trace processes help comply with new regulations and meet a growing public search for greater product transparency.

Meanwhile, the Italian company Canalair Air Systems, which has 25 years of experience in engineering, production, installation and start-up of industrial aerotextile systems, began working with Industry 4.0 concepts approximately three years ago. “By now, we have a quite consolidated system, which can be applied on different production processes,” says Maurizio Braga, CMO – global sales director.

Specific technologies offered from Canalair include production process control, electrical consumptions control and thermal saving.

“Our application allows [customers] to archive the data registered by the system, and create an historical archive of the production process,” Braga explains.

Another benefit for customers is the fact that it’s possible to cooperate with Energy Service Companies (ESCOs), with the aim to certificate the energy recovery system and obtain an important economic recovery through the issue of TEE certificates (Energy Efficiency Certificates).

“[Overall], our application allows [customers] to control the different production processes, with the aim to optimize costs and reduce the investment payback,” he says.

While the Industrial Internet and the IoT offer companies an opportunity to boost their existing business and create new business models, Valmet’s Almi admits that the fact that companies don’t know how to get started with implementation remains a challenge.

As a solution, Valmet Performance Centers are an easy-access channel for its customers of Industrial Internet applications and remote services. Performance Centers make Valmet’s expertise easily available for customers through remote connections and tools. “Valmet’s specialists have a deep understanding of machinery, processes and automation. By bringing all this expertise and experience together and making it accessible through a Performance Center, Valmet can offer the needed help and guidance to our customers without delay – and more broadly than before,” Almi says.

Osprey acknowledges that there can be a significant investment required to create and implement an Industry 4.0 solution, and there is not always a clear path to monetize the solution. “In our industry, companies must be willing to invest in their solution as a value-added feature, and be willing to prove that it creates value before attempting to charge the customer for it,” Dietz says.

Also, many customers have IT concerns over cloud-based IoT platforms, so a company must develop a solution with proven data security that will be accepted by the market.

“Another challenge is that there is not an accepted digital standard for companies to follow yet, so significant work is required to determine the path forward,” Dietz says.

To stay ahead of any issues that may arise, Osprey continually works directly with the IT departments of its customers to demonstrate how their system works, and to discuss the security features that they need in order to feel comfortable with the solution. It has also designed the system so that certain features will work even if the customer is not able to give its equipment access to the network.

Potential Impacts
From Osprey’s point of view, the nonwovens industry is still at the very early stages of adoption of Industry 4.0, and does not think that it has had a significant impact to the economy or jobs yet. In the short term, it expects the transition to Industry 4.0 will create new jobs in the area of “digitalization” positions in companies as they design and implement more IoT solutions. “It could be a few, or several, more years before the industry shifts to the later stages of adoption,” Dietz says. “When this does start to happen, we would expect to see more and more jobs shift from traditional production roles into the new roles which have been created in the areas of robotics, software development, augmented/virtual reality, and IT.”

Overall, Osprey anticipates productivity and efficiency will improve, which will create economic growth, and increase the number of jobs.

A.Celli is certain that machines will become truly “smart” in the future. “This is why humans must be equally intelligent to understand that evolution is necessary and we must ride its wave immediately,” Vergentini says.

A.Celli’s idea is to collect and track data for each plant, and industrial group, which will enhance efficiency. “We are a company that is extremely oriented towards Industry 4.0, which will certainly yield better results in terms of performance and timing,” he adds.

“Think of school children who will learn subjects better and faster if they have modern teachers and advanced and innovative tools at their disposal,” he continues. “Our machines will behave like this: correcting their errors as they go along, after having processed them with the historical data available. This process will be long and widespread in the next few years, and we cannot turn a blind eye, we must be in synch!”

Vergentini thinks it’s been very convenient, and equally wrong, to associate the concepts of automation and robotization with the direct consequence that this approach will cause jobs available to decrease.

“One forklift operator will be replaced by an additional specialized worker. One worker less in quantity will be replaced by an extra quality worker. Instead, we should mention the fact that the quality of work will increase, in line with the trend of education,” he concludes.

For Andritz, the growing demand for digital solutions and products is confirmation that Industry 4.0 is a strategic growth area for the future. “For customers, the results achieved by using our Metris products often exceed initial expectations,” Lukas says.

“Digitalization is rightly considered to be the buzzword when it comes to the next industrial revolution, which is taking place right now with Industry 4.0, and it has, therefore, gained a strong foothold in the product portfolio landscape in every company,” he adds.

Experts in the respective fields are much sought after by employers, and the startup community is booming. Andritz says it is keeping pace with these developments and transferring the benefits to its customers by providing solutions to foresee digitally under its Metris brand.

“There is a plenty of news available about Google, Uber, and car manufacturers’ efforts to develop autonomous vehicles (i.e. unattended and self-driving, capable of sensing their environment and navigating without human input). On the other hand, there has not been much news about efforts and achievements in developing an autonomous nonwoven mill – until now, but this will soon change,” Lukas predicts.

When it comes to Industry 4.0, Valmet’s Nuyan admits that initiating new ways of working and new services always requires a change in mindset and a willingness to accept of new things.

In the past, Valmet’s experts had to travel to remote destinations to respond to mill needs and solve different kinds of problems. Now, via remote connections and its Performance Centers, it has all the necessary data available and it can respond without a delay. With this solution, rather than one service specialist traveling to a site alone, they can gather a group of experts to solve mill problems remotely.

A challenge, according to Nuyan, is that many companies today are witnessing the “Baby Boom” workforce retiring in alarming numbers, leaving a serious experience gap.

“The workforce hiring in now is quite sharp and they may be trained, but regaining that experience is something that takes time,” Nuyan says. “This time lag will influence the economy, but another positive impact of Industrial Internet comes the area of training. Companies can now train their workforce more effectively because the analytics that we gather capture a lot of the experience.”

In fact, Valmet has developed simulation solutions that it now offers to train new operators and workers coming into the company. “So Industrial Internet, digitalization and these kinds of analytics are helping companies overcome this Silver Tsunami,” Nuyan adds.

As a result of Industry 4.0 implementation, Teknoweb anticipates the main impacts will be an increase in efficiency and higher productivity. “It means less people involved in low level operation and more people, with higher skills, dedicated to supervise complex operations,” Conio says. “Business intelligence tools will spread everywhere in the production cycle. As a result, we will have shorter lead time, just in time production and virtually no finished product stocks.”

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