Later this year, Rafinex will work jointly with Psylotech Inc. on AI for viscoelastic models for bonded joints and structural adhesives. These algorithms will deliver new material models for viscoelastic damage accumulation in composites, including rate and temperature dependence, while also providing a 10-fold reduction in the lab testing required for obtaining material parameters.

Joining the Revolution

With so many new technologies and so many ways to use them, composites manufacturers may be uncertain of where to start their journey into Industry 4.0.

“One of the challenges around digital and Industry 4.0 is the mass number of technologies that are available and how you make sense of them,” says Meeker. “It’s moving at light speed. Two months ago, you were looking at these providers, and now somebody else who didn’t even exist then comes out and has something better.” He advises manufacturers to find a knowledgeable advisor who can help them determine which technologies will be best for the long term.

Manufacturers may also fear that they’ll have to throw out their old equipment and buy new to take advantage of Industry 4.0 technologies. That’s not the case. “There are retrofits, sensors that you could apply to tools and parts and materials,” says Ben-Assa.

He recommends that companies start by identifying a specific pain point and finding a tech solution that will provide value. Once they’ve gotten a win, they can present it as a business case to encourage management to make further investments in technology. “You can move from one application to another gradually and gain those benefits,” says Ben-Assa.

Manufacturers could soon have another option as well. The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), which includes leaders from industry, government, research laboratories and other organizations, has led efforts to create a shared infrastructure of affordable and reliable platforms, apps and tools for using, managing and modeling data. This marketplace, which would reside in the cloud, would be accessible to everyone. It would offer proven solutions that vendors or companies have already developed and are willing to share.

A composites manufacturer that wants to increase throughput on a production line, for example, could go to the marketplace and enter information about the materials and processes they’re using. “What would come out is a set of applications and tool kits that are available, at cost or no cost, that they could use to integrate with what they already have,” explains Denise Swink, CEO of SMLC.