An interconnected future

Drawing on years of innovation in the automotive and industrial sector, Bosch Rexroth is pursuing a new vision of the ‘factory of the future’. Australian Mining explains.

Industry 4.0 is something of a hot topic at the moment. From mining to manufacturing, it’s appearing everywhere. For the Drive and Control company Bosch Rexroth and the Bosch Group overall, it is something more than the buzzword du jour.

The company has been implementing Industry 4.0 practices for years. Drawing on extensive experience from the tight margins and exacting processes of the company’s work in the highly efficient automotive industry, the company is now pursuing similar machine data implementation within the mining sector as well.

For Bosch, Industry 4.0 applications started being implemented at a nascent level over a decade ago with the implementation of standardised plant structures and communication between machines at its car factories across the world, whether they were in Europe, China or the US. 

If a plant in the US had a problem, the relevant plant in Europe would be notified instantly. Now, the company intends to draw on this experience as a major player in 4.0 to, in the words of Bosch Rexroth Australia chief executive officer Thomas Raab, “win the trust of the mining guys”.

“The philosophy of Industry 4.0 for Bosch Rexroth is not because it is fashionable,” Raab explains. “It is all about improving productivity, reducing cost on the whole lifecycle for every manufacturer and this is also true for mining.”

“Our philosophy about it from our own experience is that connectivity, the smart flow of information, shows the success we have internally and that’s what Bosch Rexroth and the Bosch Group as a whole, wants to get to the outside world more and more.”

Bosch Rexroth’s suite of drive and control applications are well suited to Industry 4.0 integration, featuring a heavy focus on compatibility with the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT). IoT applications have started to roll out in new Bosch Rexroth products while retrofitting the old ones at the same time. This expresses a highly detailed connectivity concept that feeds into all levels of machine application infrastructure.

In practical terms for the mining industry, this could translate on a base level to data analytics and predictive maintenance sensors for moving machines, such as mobile vehicles, bucket wheel drives, conveyor belts, and chain feeders from which data is transferred into the system. Raab admits that the process needs to be more refined for the mining industry compared to manufacturing.

“The first step is to set up a data network in a big, open mine area which transmits the information to whichever cloud or control centre you want to transmit it to,” he says. “Then comes the intelligence about interpreting and analysing the data, and taking the right actions to maintain service levels, keeping performance up and reducing the downtime by taking preventative measures.”

Bosch Rexroth takes pride in its reputation as an end-to-end service provider for industrial operations; IoT enabling hardware such as sensors, IoT gateways for data collection, and the company’s data analytics software ODiN, are all produced in-house, something Raab believes promotes trust and security within a business environment. 

In addition, all services can be operated for the customers by Bosch Rexroth service experts, who provide field support and aid the operators in determining the root cause of the issue with appropriate knowledge.

“Bosch has established its own industrial cloud network to offer an alternative compared to existing cloud service providers. “The business part of it is very much about trust and security, and to whom you are really giving access to your data. 

“The ODiN software can be operated by us for the customer; we take information from the machines about performance, status and predictive maintenance so we can give our advice to the mining operator.

“We can see if the performance of the machine is not within the normal range, have a look into it and get advice on what should be done; Bosch Rexroth Australia is an end-to-end provider, with more than 100 people in hydraulics service across the country, and we send our people to mine sites to carry out preventive maintenance.”

The mining industry also tends to operate on short time periods, often measured in weeks and months, whereas manufacturing is determined in span of years. 

This too requires an adjustment of philosophy as mining companies adapt to the increased life cycles of Industry 4.0. 

“We’re talking with mining companies about this whole life cycle topic,” explains Raab. “I think the mining industry has great potential to be more productive and receptive towards implementing new technology same as the automotive industry. Some are early adopters and willing to invest in improving the infrastructure to stay ahead of the game but I would say that due to the downturn in the last few years a lot of companies have invested carefully on how to make their operations more cost efficient.”

Bosch Rexroth is now proceeding forward with a new vision towards Factory Of the Future — utilising mobile control units rather than the current standard of central controls — and smarter automation.

The company made a milestone appearance at leading industrial trade show Hannover Messe in Germany in April, where it changed its traditional branding to focus on a new vision of connectivity. With a prominent presence in Australia, particularly as a hydraulics company, Raab is keen to share Bosch Rexroth’s new vision with mining partners here too.

“You need to show customers you will be there tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in the long haul. When Bosch Rexroth goes somewhere, we are there to be a long time reliable partner that contributes with innovation, quality and cost benefits to our customers,” Raab concludes.

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