Asked how much Noble has invested in Industry 4.0 technology, Rogers is more reserved, suggesting the company has probably spent "more in time than in software and hardware," he said.
"To me, it's substantial. It's a strategy," Rogers said. "It's enough to where we all sat down around the table, our leadership team, and said, 'OK.' I mean, I could definitely have bought another molding machine."
He added: "If you look at some of the metrics for our industry in, say, machine utilization, it's not that great on average. So, as an industry, should we add more machines or should we just get better using the capital that we have?"
That's a decision Rogers said his company made strategically when it came to taking the leap toward 4.0 and lights-out manufacturing.
With Noble — as the company is among the somewhat early adopters of automation equipment and a range of Industry 4.0 services — Rogers fully expects there to be some bumps in the road. And, like anything where you are an early adopter, plastics processors can expect to pay more upfront than they will get out of it at first — at least, in terms of tangible benefits.
And that's another side of Industry 4.0 discussions with other plastics processors: They want to know the return on investment — the dollars and cents of it — before they take that giant leap toward implementing the technology.
"When I'm doing a job on [an injection molding machine], I'm like, 'Look, I'm making money.' It's very tangible, and we like things we can touch," Rogers said. "This Industry 4.0 is not tangible. And it's new and it requires you to talk to people that you probably don't have a lot in common with."
But outside of numbers paired with dollar signs, there are many ways to quantify the potential returns of adopting more 4.0 tech. For a lights-out facility, specifically, Rogers highlighted two: minimizing machine downtime and, via Oracle's internet of things asset monitoring cloud application, gaining a better understanding of both machine health and part quality with the goal of reducing maintenance costs.
Lower maintenance costs can mean more uptime, he said. And for part quality, if the company is getting better yield and eliminating any rework, that's less labor he has to use.
"If we have more confidence in our ability to monitor and have good feedback from our systems, then it will accelerate us being able to move a certain program to lights-out status," Rogers explained. "That's an advantage."
Noble is getting feedback quicker, he said, which leads to less machine downtime, a costly variable especially if you're operating a large facility.
During a recent visit to a company performing large-scale assembly with hundreds of robots, Rogers said they estimated machine downtime at such a large facility can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 a minute.
At that point, Rogers said it's not even about how much artificial intelligence via Industry 4.0 technology can save a company: "Let's just talk about if I can get you relevant information 15 seconds sooner [because] that's a lot of money," he said.
Improved transparency through asset monitoring — whether that means knowing more about the status of your equipment or your production process and setup as whole — is valuable. And the portability of data, especially with the internet of things, provides an environment for that level of transparency to thrive.
By "hooking all of these things up," Rogers explained, it allows plastics processors to get the cause and effect, the ins and outs, the glitches and resolutions, all the way through the production process.
And this level of access to data and monitoring can allow companies to have better controls on their products and better controls on their inventory, which could result in some savings and a competitive advantage as more and more 4.0 tools become commonplace in manufacturing.
"I believe as we go further and further down the road, the companies that can provide that kind of transparency and participate in those initiatives are going to be the suppliers of choice to the larger companies and to whoever is making that final widget," Rogers said. "And the people who can't do that, at some point, may be left in a bad position."