Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD
The Special Report in this month’s issue focusses on Motor Drives, Robotics and Controls. Inside that Special Report, we talked a lot on how to make these parts of the production process more efficient, which is a key part of Industry 4.0 along with using sensors and AI to optimize production and predict when machines will need maintenance. Indeed, most people would actually summarize the philosophy behind Industry 4.0 as using technology to build the most efficient process with the most uptime possible. To an extent that is true, but there is another important strand of Industry 4.0 that is not talked about nearly as much – personalization or mass customization. Sustainability and efficiency are brilliant, but at the end of the day, the purpose of manufacturing is to give customers what they want. In the past, designing and making a product with features that customers desired was good enough. In the future, customers will demand products that will exactly fit their own personal needs. This will mean that manufacturers will have to work towards a batch size of one. These customizations can be traits of the product, or even physical features. Either way, they muct be customizable to satisfy each individual customer.
I was reminded of that facet of Industry 4.0 this week, when I read about a new innovation from BMW that could lead the way to mass customization. The Bavarian company has worked in partnership with engineering specialist Dürr to develop an automated technique to deposit paint that is overspray-free and based on a jet application rather than the traditional electrostatic adherence method. The jet application does not require paint separation and uses a great deal less energy and air than electrostatic adherence. The new EcoPaintJet Pro application process can apply paint without stencils or masking the vehicle, which the carmaker says will lead to "virtually limitless options for individualization". Currently, the system can use two colours for a maskless custom paint job. The process is being trialled at BMW’s Dingolfing plant. Initially, 19 BMW M4 Coupes will be painted with a custom two-tone design that includes the M4 identification on the front and rear. If the trial is a success, the company will use the EcoPaintJet Pro equipment on its production lines from as soon as next year.
It is not just customization that the new process offers. It is quicker and will reduce the use of paint and air, while using much less energy. BMW estimates that its carbon footprint will be reduced by 2,000 tons based on 7,000 operating hours. Applications like this that show off every aspect of the potential of Industry 4.0, and we can expect to see many more of them in the future.
You can see the new paint process in action on this video.