“Integration” is the slogan of the 4.0 era we are living.
Everything tends to integrate: objects, subjects, systems with other systems … to create a single environment in which everything communicates.
All this integrated communication is a consequence, but also the origin of changes that have twisted our era: in fact we have given our present the dignity and allure of an industrial revolution. The fourth one.
Horizontal and vertical integration is one of the various enabling elements and technologies that can well describe this revolution.
But what exactly does “horizontal and vertical integration” mean?
While all the other additional points of Industry 4.0 are nearly explaining themselves, this particular idea may need a broader and more detailed explanation.
Everything becomes easier if we consider this type of integration as a natural consequence of other “4.0” elements, such as the Internet of Things, Cloud computing and Big data.
The Internet of Things allows you to create a network consisting of tools, machines and people.
A network without geographical boundaries, including several processing lines, departments … establishments.
Thanks to Cloud computing everything is distributed in the cloud and therefore available from any device or work station. The costs are reduced, but also the boundaries represented by the achievement of information stored in a physical form.
Big data represent a large amount of unstructured information that, duly analyzed and organized, provides valuable information to guide decisions and strategies in order to support the continuous improvement. All this information can now be shared across a potentially extended network such as the world…
The vertical integration concerns the communication and sharing of information, within the company, but in a transversal manner compared to its hierarchical structure.
A system is defined as vertically integrated if it manages to involve more subjects, starting from the base (for example the production lines) up to the upper levels of the management, that is those who have decisional and strategic responsibilities for the company.
In this way the information rapidly crosses all the subjects involved, considerably reducing the dead times that usually exist between the acquisition of the data and the decision-making moment: all are aligned in a short time… actually in real time.
To give a practical example: the classic case of data acquired with regard to production efficiency: thanks to the software tools such as Andon and OEE, the online operator will be able to see the production status of his line, check if there are problems, record the reasons for the stops and defects; in the office the manager will check the precise situation of all the lines, being able to go back and see the progress of the production, the causes of the stops etc ..; in another office, not necessarily located in the same plant.. or city … or continent, another manager will be able to compare the production of different plants or different products…
Horizontal integration complies with subjects outside the company: for example suppliers or distributors or other subjects.
The company, suppliers and distributors are connected here by a network of information sharing such as machine maintenance, or the supply of raw materials: in real time the supplier can be notified of the supply need of a raw material; or a machine supplier will be able to communicate a whole series of information, through the cloud, which will allow the company to better manage the maintenance, both through preventive and predictive actions.
In the most advanced cases, horizontal integration can also reach the customer, who can order his customized mass-produced product, communicating directly with the machines on the production line.
To design something, to think of a project or a product today it means to think of it always in “relationship with“, to place it within a process: people are part of this process with different tasks and qualifications, machines and devices geographically potentially distributed anywhere.
The data that we can acknowledge today are many and force us to think big, always on a large scale. The data represent a continuous flow: a big advantage will be held by those who will be able to channel the greatest quantity and variety and above all to rationalize them in order to be able to draw concrete answers.
Answers for the customer, as close as possible to his needs, to his demands.
After all, all this information are mainly necessary for two things:
- Knowing ourselves better (our efficiency, our critical points, where we can improve, how we can improve)
- Get to know the customer better (what do you need? What are you looking for? When are you looking for it?)
All this is achieved only by implementing “open” systems, able to interface with other systems, now through a human operator, now through a machine, depending on the case and needs. All immediately available through devices that are increasingly likely to be mobile … and futuristic.
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