Survey data by Deloitte suggests that businesses with a comprehensive Industry 4.0 strategy are becoming more profitable. Every area of manufacturing requires different technologies that make the Fourth Industrial Revolution easier to realize. In process heating applications, one of the most important technologies manufacturers must be aware of is data recording. Here, Austin Johannes, controls specialist at industrial technology company Watlow, explores why data recording is key to bringing heating technologies into Industry 4.0.

 With the right tools and experience, Industry 4.0 can optimize a facility’s production, making it smarter, more efficient and more profitable. In sectors that use process heating, such as medical equipment, semiconductor processing and food manufacturing, one of the most useful technologies to implement is data recording.

A data recording transition

Previously, facilities were manned by technicians with clipboards that would manually monitor equipment and processes. For obvious reasons, this method was inefficient compared to the technology available today. The advancement of analog electronics brought strip recorders into the industry. Using strip recorders, technicians relied on small pens and rolling paper to record vital processes. While this freed them from continuously monitoring a single machine, they were bulky and expensive to implement.

Today, the average smart factory generates millions of gigabytes (GB) of data per week. With that in mind, it’s vital that facilities collect and understand their data so that it can be used to benefit the entire production line. Digital data recorders avoid the time and expense of sending a technician to take measurements in a remote location, and they enable much higher data recording density than is achievable through manual recording, providing higher quality data.

The benefits of digital data recording

So why should data recording be an essential part of any manufacturing facility that wants to advance with Industry 4.0?

Greater insight into areas for improvement allows design engineers to optimize systems and understand which steps in their process are most critical to achieve the desired outcome. Digital data logs also make it easier for information to be distributed and shared, which improves communication among team members working on a system.

When issues inevitably occur, having a historical log of what caused the incident ensures the problem can be identified and addressed, preventing future downtime from overlooked issues.

Perhaps though, the most significant benefit of data recording is that it supports efficient preventative maintenance. Having access to real time data engineers and technicians can act before issues become downtime. It’s estimated that every factory loses at least five per cent of its productivity because of downtime. Eventually, this adds up to extreme revenue loss.

The data collected can highlight variations or anomalies, suggesting that something has changed in the system. Take for example, a foam sheet manufacturer, which used a Watlow controller with built in data recording to quickly react to a quality issue indicated by specific temperature variations in their curing process. The information allowed engineers to identify and resolve the cause of the problem, saving costs and minimizing waste.

Depending on the application, data recorders can be incorporated as one integrated solution or as an extra to a system. Watlow, which is continuously piloting and implementing Industry 4.0 technology programs, manufactures advanced heating products, including sensors, controllers and data recording equipment.

Manufacturers looking to implement digital data recording can choose an integrated system such as the F4T® temperature controller, with built in data recording, or the D4T™, a dedicated data recording device. With these solutions, customers can log parameters that are preconfigured, saving setup time and complexity. Watlow’s solutions also feature a list of popular setup configurations to help manufacturers optimize data recording that’s tailored to their specific needs.

Data recorders of the future

Among influencing many industrial changes, Industry 4.0 is significantly transforming the way that data is exchanged. The increasingly rapid rate of digital transformation might lead to mainstream integration of artificial intelligence (AI) data recording capabilities. This would grant manufacturers with the advantages of advanced algorithms that calculate and rectify value discrepancies, without the need for routine manual intervention.

With the incorporation of wireless and cloud-based technology, data recorders of the future may be able to broadcast real-time data to the cloud and may also present themselves as smartphones, tablets and web applications, offering greater remote control of data.

Data recorders eliminate hourly inspections on an autoclave and instead free engineers’ schedules from periodic recording. The future will see these devices become smarter and more reliable. This will enable workforces to focus on more value-adding tasks, such as product development and system improvements, to promote growth and scalability across industries.

While data collection is crucial in any facility, it is understanding how to act on that data that is key to realizing the benefits of Industry 4.0. Gone are the days of engineers with clipboards in hand. Data recorders do the work so that engineers don’t have too, freeing up schedules to improve performance and streamline operational efficiency.

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