between ambitions and reality on the ground

On the occasion of SIDO Lyon, a trade show dedicated to IoT, AI and robotics which was held on September 14 and 15, 2022, Alten presented, in partnership with Siemens, 3 demonstrations to “boost innovation and optimize business performance. In an interview with Usine Digitale, Steve Péguet, Scientific Director of Alten, talks about the ambitions of Factory 4.0 and the reality on the ground.

Often cited as the solution to the relocation and reindustrialization of production in France, factory 4.0, or the digitization of industry, refers to a new generation of connected factories. However, faced with the multitude of diverse technologies now available, it remains to be seen how to proceed in order to derive the maximum benefit from these tools. “One of the challenges of factory 4.0 is to be able to work at the pace of the factory and to be able to activate the element at the right time that will allow the return on investment”, explains Steve Péguet.

Combine technologies

Scientific Director at Alten, a French ESN specialized in engineering and technology consulting, Steve Péguet has been working for ten years on the development of tool maintenance strategies in order to increase their lifespan in the factory, all thanks to technology. “Over the years, we have been disappointed by the promises of the cloud, edge computing, etc. In the end, it is only by adding these technologies that we have managed to touch the expected result,” explains- he.

To illustrate his point, Steve Péguet returns to the case of a French client specializing in aeronautics, whose name he will not mention. This customer’s needs were for the maintenance of sharp objects in the factory using predictive maintenance, one of the promises of Factory 4.0. “First with the cloud, we managed to determine that there were good practices and predictions to be found”, but the data available “cold” did not allow more.

This is how the teams turned to edge computing, “in particular in partnership with Siemens”, says Steve Péguet. “We started to see that with such a tool or such a machine we obtain such behavior and therefore we could at best predict the life of the machine and the need for sharpening. However, we lacked the just in time“, explains the manager.

Alten then moved on to a new partner and new technology, STMicroelectronics, which acquired Alten’s original partner, Cartesiam. “We extended our partnership to create an intelligent sensor around vibration analysis and we were working at 6600 Hz. This allowed us to find the just in time, so the sharpening moment, and to increase by 20 and 30 % the lifespan of a tool”, says Steve Péguet.

“Technology for everything”

Accentuated by the pandemic, the technological shift of French factories has become more than necessary. “Today, we really have the technology to do everything. The difficulty is rather organizational,” laments the manager. According to him, technology is no longer an end in itself, but a necessity to attract talent.

The problem is “the convergence of forces” available. Alten advocates building this change through people. “Technology allows a lot now, but you have to do things on the ground and with people,” explains Steve Péguet. The manager notes that factories have for a long time not welcomed IT professions. “They had the feeling for years that they were wasting their time experimenting and seeing nothing go to scale, when on the side, they had things to do.”

On the occasion of the Sido, Alten discussed various topics. On the one hand, in terms of data, the need to think about the source, the business needs and the contextual data that must be analyzed in real time. On the other hand, the company discussed the advanced analysis and visualization of this data. A strategy that she considers important to make data a performance lever. Alten and Siemens Customer Services Digital Industries have also joined forces to deploy complex gesture training on a large scale. The two companies offer a solution that is personalized and immersive.

Attract talent and reduce climate impact

Asked about the future of the use of augmented reality and virtual reality in factory 4.0, Steve Péguet indicates that there are “still many constraints” in the use of these two technologies. “You should not see them as a companion as we had presented it, but rather as the companion of the right moment”. For this professional in the sector, AR/VR technologies remain very useful at key times, for example during training. “This makes it possible to do things while avoiding dangerous gestures and breakage, especially in maintenance actions which are rare and which we tend to forget”, he specifies.

For the manager, extended reality is more of a source of attraction for new generations. In general, Steve Péguet believes that factory 4.0 and digital transformation are “necessary to attract a young person who is more familiar with technology”.

Alten recently announced that it has made 4 acquisitions in 2022. Two of the companies acquired are specialized in the cloud and digital transformation. Today, “30% of our turnover is on IT and 70% on engineering, we need a balance so our acquisition is more oriented on IT”, explains Steve Péguet. “For the time being, we are acquiring skills that are a little rarer on the market to balance our strengths,” he continues.

From now on, still with the objective of industry 4.0, Alten wishes to commit to digital sobriety. “Digital now represents twice civil aviation in terms of CO2. The remedy should not be worse than the disease,” says Steve Péguet. Still at the project stage, Alten says it is working on setting up measurement tools to find an architecture that reduces the impact on the environment. “There is pollution necessary for production, but there is also the ability to reduce it,” he concludes.

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