May 16, 2019


Industry 4.0 topics are becoming an increasingly important part of how companies work, in terms of investments, productivity and innovation. Basically speaking, the digitalisation process has become the core of the actual factory, or rather - and maybe this is best definition of Industry 4.0 at the moment - it is “digitalisation applied to manufacturing”.

The Marchesini Group started to dabble with the basic concepts of the fourth industrial revolution well before it became a trend. At the beginning of this century, the Group tackled the effects on its in-house processes and on the finished products. Working with customers from the pharma world means that you have to keep astride of innovative investments. They are indeed promoted by these companies due to their specific sector, and are also strongly affected by them.

Marchesini previewed its A.I. project to the world during its Open Factory, focusing on Industry 4.0 and the current and future developments that this complex and unpredictable revolution brings with it. There is no way of getting out of it and, despite its apparent abstractness, its impact is affecting production processes more and more.

Marchesini has came up with the A.l. project to illustrate its vision of Industry 4.0. The project can be represented on 3 levels, divided into an imaginary pyramid. The production line is on the first level, which from now on will be devised and created to combine industrial manufacturing competence with digitalisation techniques and Artificial Intelligence algorithms.

The mechanics, robotics and sensors utilise SCADA systems and line management technologies that can keep track of a huge amount of quality and machine operating data. At the top of the pyramid, software and technologies are exploited to extract the data processed from the work environment, to then convert them into precious information that will be exploited for Business Intelligence strategies. Thanks to the Artificial Intelligence tools and to the Deep Learning algorithms, all the data can be analysed to reach important objectives and better understand the processes and the production indicators (e.g. KPI and OEE). It will also improve the quality of production flow by easily pinpointing what slows down production or by highlighting potentials that have not been fully exploited.

The line chosen to launch the A.I. project consists of three machines that represent the current state-of-the-art of primary and secondary packaging technologies for pharmaceutical blisters. Upstream, there is the robotic Integra 320 blister packager equipped with a Valida infeed system - with five cameras to control shape, thickness and colour of pills - and with HarleNIR system, a Near InfraRed spectroscopy solution for the acknowledgment of the active ingredient.

Labelling is carried out by the BL-A420 CW - equipped with a loading cell completely built into the step conveyor system. This is a complete solution for tracking, serialising and labelling cartons, giving a unique identity to each pharmaceutical product packed. At the end of the line there is a case-packer for Track & Trace MC 820 TT fully equipped to complete final aggregation of the product.

Based on the experience of this line named “4.0 ready”, those that follow suit in the near future will form a generation of stand-alone machines and complete lines designed according to the concepts of IoT: they will not be just “objects” but real intelligent and linked assets, making business interactive and its management systems proactive, by supporting Data Analytics and Business Intelligence platforms.

They won’t be difficult to use. Just think of the latest generation of smart phones for example. They are complex devices but you don’t realise it. The HMI layer separating the operator from the heart of the machine is already present as an ergonomic monitor, actually not much bigger than a tablet, providing access control, complete reporting and statistics on production batches. In the future, it is set to become even more user-friendly and compact.

Another important aspect concerning production is that of additive manufacturing. This term indicates a set of techniques and manufacturing technologies exploited to create a finished product without having to make it from an unfinished cast, which was characteristic of conventional subtractive technology. Today, Marchesini has a dedicated department with 3D printers working 24 hours a day to make prototypes and specific production parts, each with a different engineering design. The prototyping centre exploits the 3D printers to process parts made of plastic, metal or bi-materials, directly from the drawings to the actual physical production of the object: in this way, designers can see the result of their creativity and test it immediately. The goal is to make the design planning and innovation activities faster than standards of the past, by-passing projects printed on paper and automatically pinpointing the best processing strategies. The times and costs required to make the parts can be cut, simultaneously monitoring production planning, machine wear and tear and error management.

Robotics also have a key role in this process. The robotic hands developed in-house by Marchesini have always made production faster, thanks to their capacity to efficiently manage the primary transfer phases upstream (e.g. transferring the pills into the blisters) and the secondary transfer phases downstream (putting the blister into its carton). Marchesini’s patented robots are specifically devised for packaging and are an integral part of the machines. They can adapt to the various sizes, weights and shapes of the products to be packaged.

Cameras are also integrated into the cutting-edge machines, which ensure utmost flexibility in managing the various products and materials to be packaged. On Marchesini’s solutions, these cameras are usually used within serialisation systems to unmistakeably code each package so that it can be recognised, traced and identified. To conclude, thanks to Cyber Security technologies, Marchesini protects its computerised systems by using encrypted channels for sensitive information and anti-intrusion software.

The  SCADA systems provide feedback to operators on a full check-up of the machine’s mechanical and functional status at any time and in any place, be it physical or remote. They constantly track vital parameters, offering a variety of functions, such as pinpointing and correcting feasible problems on the systems, finding inefficiencies linked to the operators or allowing the different and complex systems and machinery to communicate with each other, detecting the status of the various devices and components at any time.

The efficient use of SCADA systems cuts machine monitoring costs thanks to real-time access to all the information concerning the industrial processes, from the simplest, such as the status of vision systems, pressure and temperature values, to more sophisticated information. Vertical integration of the production lines with the SCADA systems and Line Management systems improve the productivity, quality and flexibility indicators. Such improvements depend less on human actions and more on automation and interlinked systems.

The third level of the A.I. project entails Marchesini’s stand-alone machines and complete lines set up with the native advanced and modular software suite (yudoo), which exploits real-time data transmission on UPC-UA protocol. Created by the Group’s partner, SEA Vision, yudoo incorporates various functions split up into packets that customers can select individually; depending on the information required, it provides complete information on the status, diagnostics, production meters and on overall performance.

Yudoo helps customers to extract and elaborate a huge number of data that in the past were hidden within the production environment: they can be selected, interpreted and converted into information; this information will then be used in various environments, for example to improve the quality of the productive process by correcting in advance or finding the causes for drops in production and eliminate unscheduled idle times, by anticipating routine maintenance operations. Yudoo is configured as a user-friendly framework to improve the user experience on the line and offer a strategic tool for corporate Business Intelligence.

Contextual management of these three levels will transform the stand-alone machines and complete lines of Marchesini from semi-closed systems into totally open ecosystems that deliver internal data to the outside world (e.g. production data) and that internalise data received from the outside world (e.g. production orders). Thanks to the OPC UA protocol and to the interlinked technologies, complete communication is possible not only from within the factory - between the actual machines and the management systems, such as ERP and MES - but also between the machines and the organisms outside the company (such as those who dispatch the serialised codes to be used). This favours better connectivity, management of systems and interoperability at all levels, which are fundamental to manage industrial assets and performance.

To conclude, remote assistance is another transversal aspect to be taken into account: thanks to the use of new software programs, such as those that imply the use of augmented reality visors, the customer will get even more effective and less expensive assistance, allowing the manufacturer to actually see the machine from anywhere in the world and provide targeted assistance without having to be physically on site.

The combined use of all this information and all these technologies will open an infinite world of opportunities by turning the factory into an AI Factory:  a totally interlinked environment where self-learning machines, devices, people and the management systems of the factory interact to create innovative and highly efficient products, services and workplaces. To discover this world - and to manage its exciting but as yet uncertain implications - is today’s real challenge for the manufacturing industry.