The six trends of Industry 4.0

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The path to the fourth Industrial Revolution is not always clear. Many companies and industrial organisations have different views on the precise meaning of Industry 4.0. As a pioneering technology group, Harting has offerings for these rapid developments and, to make them more comprehensible, has grouped them into six recognisable trends.

The six trends of Industry 4.0Digitalisation now impacts on every area of modern life. Almost without exception, we are all networked with other human beings and the environment via a smartphone or other mobile device. This is a development that is also forging ahead in areas outside of everyday life. More and more intercommunicating end devices and products are finding their way into industrial production. This increasing digitalisation, this merging of two major areas – software/IT and traditional automation – is becoming more widely known as Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution). But what exactly does it mean? In many companies, particularly SMEs, the meaning of the term is still unclear and it is subject to a number of different interpretations.

To make this clearer and easier to understand, Harting Technology Group has looked at the current developments in industry and identified six trends. They represent the various development areas for hardware and software and offer some guidance on the path they might take.

Trend 1: Modularisation – Future-proof connections, powerful, compact, fast and extremely flexible

Modular approaches are becoming increasingly significant. A shift towards customised manufacture is spelling the end for rigidly structured mass production. Modular components save time by allowing rapid changes, and adjustments to production systems to be carried out faster.

Trend 2: Identification – Auto-ID that offer more

Condition monitoring can be uncomplicated and cost-efficient with RFID sensor-transponder systems. They help to report potential issues early on and reduce downtime. While goods and workpieces used to travel 'invisibly' through a production system, they can now use RFID to communicate with their environment and provide information about how they should be processed.

Trend 3: Integration – Intelligent devices and software systems that talk to each other

Smoothly functioning communication between objects and third-party systems such as a PLC from the web to the shop floor – flexible software tailored to meet the requirements of any application.

Trend 4: Digitalisation – Real production and virtual control systems are increasingly uniting

For example; the Harting HAIIC MICA energy management system for efficient production and condition monitoring.

Trend 5: Miniaturisation – Components and systems, reduced dimensions and weight matched by maximum capabilities

Networks in the field are becoming more highly populated and, at the same time, smaller and more powerful components are demanded. This also applies to computer systems and plug connectors.

Trend 6: Customisation – Tailored products and systems for data, signals and power

Individual system solutions and products that co-ordinate perfectly. Open-source software platforms meet customer requirements just as much as customised hardware assemblies.

Making the connections

The fourth industrial revolution is accompanied by increasingly dense networks of sensors, actuators and smart devices in the field. Machine-to-machine communication and digitalisation of previously anonymous workpieces require increasing numbers of interfaces and connections. There is a growing demand for smaller and more powerful components that can be operated faster and more easily. Industry 4.0 and the associated modular structure of production systems are resulting in higher mating cycles and data rates for plug connectors. Harting is offering a range of hardware for plug connectors that support the Industry 4.0 trends towards miniaturisation, modularisation and digitalisation.

Use less space

The trend towards miniaturisation is evident in all the lifelines of industry – power, signal and data. The new M12 Power L-coded power supply system is intended to replace 7/8inch connectors and, despite a significantly smaller format, can supply power to energy-hungry applications. These might be field distributors, I/O boxes or even small servo drives. This miniaturisation enables housing to be configured on a smaller scale and provided throughout with M12 connectors.

har-flex PCB connectors are another example of successful miniaturisation. With a grid dimension of 1.27mm, they transmit signals reliably, as housing connections for example, and are much smaller than current PCB plug connectors yet they are equally effective. The new THR variant of har-flex (see right) offers additional fixing points to the PCB, which makes it very stable in a compact space. This is successful miniaturisation.

Connectors for modular machines

In terms of modularisation, connectors that can be operated quickly and easily with one hand, and that offer different connector faces in identical housings, score highly.

Harting offers the PushPull system to meet these requirements (see right). It is robust, can be inserted or removed in seconds, and is available with every standard connector face for power, signals and data. It offers significant time savings in production systems that are regularly retooled or recombined with others in new configurations.

Industry 4.0 represents an undeniable shift away from mass production and towards customised manufacture in real-time. This means that machines that previously were cabled once for long periods of operation now need more frequent retooling. In the future, systems will be divided increasingly into standalone modules that work independently but that can be brought together in any combination. In these situations, a fast modular system such as PushPull is a great advantage.

Rising data rates

The trend towards digitalisation resonates with IT terminology such as Big Data, Cloud or 10G. Data rates in the field and in network environments are rising steadily. Cables and connectors must keep pace with this development. There are two trends in industrial data cabling developing in parallel with this. One is taking a traditional route with copper cables with which Cat 6A Ethernet can be transmitted at up to 10GBit/s.

The stand-out example here is Harting's versatile preLink system for applications of the future in which Harting has found a way to separate the formerly indivisible combination of cable and plug connector into two independent and reusable parts. The preLink terminal block can be used with eight-core Ethernet cable that can be safely assembled in the field with the compatible preLink pliers in a single operation. This terminal block fits into a number of sockets and plug connectors. The particularly clever feature of the system is that the terminal block can be removed again in seconds and placed in a different plug connector. Cables and plug connectors can be changed separately.

Enabling the flexible connection technology of the preLink system to serve a wide range of different situations, it is available with different mating faces used routinely in industrial applications. They include RJ45 network plugs and sockets and M12, PushPull Variant 14 and as an insert in Han 3A for IP65/67-compliant applications.

The current focus for transmission over distances exceeding 100m is on optical fibres, which enable substantially higher data rates to be achieved over several kilometres. Factors such as the type of optical fibre, the transceivers and the protocol used determine the limit. For this variant, Harting offers a PushPull plug connector in an optical LC Duplex variant.

With the trends outlined above firmly in mind, Harting is creating easily accessible products and systems for the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). Find out more at

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