Industry 4.0 in practice

The core expertise of a distributor within the context of Industry 4.0 lies in their ability to support their customers in implementing relevant products. As part of the supply chain, they can also contribute to establishing Industry 4.0. Rutronik is active at the forefront of both fields. Andreas Mangler, director strategic marketing & communications at Rutronik Elektronische Bauelemente GmbH, tells us more

According to the current roadmap of the “Industry 4.0” platform, Industry 4.0 is expected to be a reality by 2035, including reference architecture and standardisation. In particular, standardisation is a topic of much discussion. While some things are already defined in the IEC standards, these are often considered to be inadequate, which is why they are deemed to be a hindrance to the broader implementation of Industry 4.0. But this shortfall can be countered—using tried-and-tested processes and technical systems and well-established standards.

Andreas Mangler, director, strategic marketing & communications at Rutronik Elektronische Bauelemente GmbH

More efficiency for growth

Rutronik pursues such a best practice approach. In 2014 alone, Rutronik exchanged around two million messages with its customers in this way, thereby increasing the efficiency of all parties in the supply chain, namely the customer, the component supplier and the distributor itself. A more interwoven network enables procurement processes to be largely automated, which enables them to be optimised and sped up. The resources that this liberates provide scope for further growth.

An automated, bidirectional system of communication between the distributor’s Inventory Control System and that of the customer provides the basis. It contains all relevant information and services related to the procurement chain. More specifically, this means that the distributor must be able to receive the customer’s data and process it internally. They must also promptly provide the customer with all required information in a form that the customer can also process automatically. This interface must be designed so that the customer receives all data that they need for their production. For this, the distributor must provide the customer with a wide range of information, from forecasts on order, warehouse and dispatch information to billing data, and numerous standards are available for this.

At a technical level, a process engine on both sides is one of the requirements for the networking of the Inventory Control Systems. For data communication, Rutronik supports all common protocols, among them AS2, FTP/FTPS, VANs, X400, SMTP (email) and more. Rutronik is also able to offer a broad selection of exchange formats, including for example UN/EDIFACT, VDA, XML, SAP-idoc or RosettaNet.

To keep communication within defined channels, it is also necessary to set boundaries. Here, the partners define together which parameters, message formats and message content is exchange by which challenge and at which time intervals. These are established in a written framework agreement to provide both partners with security. Within this framework, parameter variables provide the flexibility needed to be able to react to unpredictable events.

Automated procurement

If the procurement process runs via such a system of data communication, the customer profits from considerably increased efficiency—where numerous manual interim steps would otherwise be needed, two thirds of the process can now be automated. In the example of purchasing, there is no longer any need for the inquiry or order process, while in goods receipt, goods no longer need to be inspected or posted. This enables the customer to save a considerable amount of their process and procurement costs and increase their efficiency. A further benefit is that the quality of processes increases, because the possibility of human error in inputs is eliminated.

SPIDER – a network within Industry 4.0

At Rutronik, the practical implementation of this method is called SPIDER. This stands for Systems for Process, Integration, Documentation, Exchange and Relationship-Management and is equally a part of the identity of the distributor in its function as a data network manager within the procurement chain. SPIDER provides numerous gateways to various applications, from mobile devices to web services, EDI, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) to process monitoring and hardware gateways.

EAI constitutes the central node of the network. Of the systems residing here, data archiving plays a major role in Industry 4.0, allowing all processes to be transparently tracked for all parties. This is also where the exchange of data is coordinated.

All messages, including order changes, forecasts, automatic goods receipt postings and POS reports are exchanged via the ERP gateway. Web services like Rutronik24 give the customer a comprehensive and quick at-a-glance perspective of the delivery status of their orders, previous orders, current exchange rates and much more.

For mobile devices, Rutronik uses the app “smartConsi” to not only connect its own Inventory Control System with that of the customer, but also provides the customer with a front end that they can use to easily manage their consignment store. When removing a product, they only need to use a smartphone to scan the bar code on the packaging. The message then runs automatically to the Rutronik Inventory Control System, where the system issues the invoice. A similar app is also available for kanban systems in the form of smartKanban.

Complex component distribution

In implementing such a process, the component distribution must deal with exceptional complexity. At Rutronik, we handle no less than around 80 billion shipped products, 150 suppliers, 40,000 customers and 120,000 continuously managed products in the Inventory Control System. But Rutronik shows that even systems as complex as this can be implemented using existing standards with the attributes of Industry 4.0—digital, intelligent, and unique—and that this step will pay off for all involved.

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