Aluminium industry: on a path to intelligent production

Aluminium industry: on a path to intelligent production

Industry readying for digitalisation

Even though many aluminium companies are already planning and implementing projects, there is a strong need for know-how and best practices when it comes to digital manufacturing in the industry, finds a survey

September 1, 2018

The aluminium industry is getting ready for digitalisation and the implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies, according to the findings of a survey.

Industry 4.0 applications are on the agenda for about 90 per cent of companies, while some 62 per cent are already developing strategies or have reached the implementation phase, revealed an industry barometer survey of 240 aluminium experts from 39 countries conducted on the occasion of the annual Aluminium World Trade Fair 2018, which will be held in Düsseldorf, Germany from October 9 to 11. 

The digital transformation and the path to intelligent production is one of the biggest challenges for industry, and the aluminium sector is no exception. The aluminium trade fair survey shows that the aluminium industry is already well-positioned in the digital realm and reveals the ways companies are dealing with Industry 4.0 technologies.

Digital manufacturing is of very high to high significance for 85 per cent of the companies surveyed. Small companies (up to 9 employees) and large-scale industrial enterprises (5,000 employees and up) are particularly aware of the importance of digital technologies – they consider them most relevant.

Implementation levels at companies vary, however: while 28 per cent of respondents are still in the information-gathering phase, just as many (28 per cent) are currently in the process of developing a digital strategy. The first projects are being realised in 23 per cent of the surveyed companies. Meanwhile, 11 per cent of respondents are already comprehensively deploying Industry 4.0



Today, Industry 4.0 applications are primarily deployed in production (27 per cent) and research & development (22 per cent), followed by distribution (15 per cent), logistics (13 per cent) and the supply chain (12 per cent).

Industry 4.0 technologies are used in production control (14 per cent), the networking of machines (“Internet of Things”, 14 per cent) and production processes (13 per cent). At the same time, companies are also focussed on linking up with partners (11 per cent) and on mobile devices (11 per cent) and cloud computing (9 per cent).

In the opinion of the respondents, networking with customers and/or external partners is getting more and more important. So far, however, only 28 per cent of the companies are systematically integrating their partners in the planning and/or implementation of their digital manufacturing strategy.



When it comes to the use of digital solutions, one must differentiate between industrial sectors. The networking of machines (39 per cent) and production control (37 per cent) are considered most important in the production of materials and semi-finished goods. By contrast, manufacturers of components for user industries say the digitalisation of individual production processes (38 per cent) is their key concern. The same is true in mechanical and plant engineering (35%), where networked production control (35 per cent) also plays an important role.

Companies in aluminium processing, such as those specialised in surface treatments, care about connecting with other partners (38 per cent). Distributors feel similarly: as one would expect, they prioritise networking with customers (67 per cent) and mobile devices (44 per cent).



Efficient production processes, increased productivity and enhanced collaboration within the supply chain are seen as the biggest advantages offered by Industry 4.0 applications. In addition, many of the respondents are hoping for closer relationships with partners and customers and expect faster and better connectivity with suppliers, improved customer support and faster response times, among other things.

Even though many companies are already planning and implementing projects, there is a strong need for know-how and best practices when it comes to digital manufacturing in the aluminium industry. Asked about the solutions companies are looking for right now, supply chain management was mentioned most often. There’s also strong demand for the networking of machines, robotic solutions, big data and online distribution processes. Manufacturers of semi-finished goods and extruded products, in particular, expressed a clear need for digital solutions.

In this context, however, all of the respondents were also concerned about obstacles on the way to Industry 4.0. Digitalisation projects in the companies are currently being delayed primarily by high investment costs and too many unresolved implementation issues.



Taking place in Düsseldorf, Germany from 9 to 11 October, this year’s Aluminium World Trade Fair will put a spotlight on the digital transformation and intelligent production processes. Introducing the new “Digital Manufacturing” special exhibition area, the trade fair is creating a forum aimed at demonstrating the productivity benefits provided by powerful IT solutions – from engineering software and systems to manufacturing software and machines to IT security and consulting.

A total of 1,000 exhibitors and 27,000 visitors from 100 countries are expected to attend the world’s largest trade fair of the aluminium industry. Spread across six exhibition halls, the fair will showcase the industry’s complete range – from aluminium production to machines and plants for processing to finished goods and recycling.

A total of 240 industry experts from 39 countries participated in Aluminium 2018’s survey “How digital is the aluminium industry already?” – including producers, processors, technology suppliers, and design and other engineers from user industries, representing small businesses, large-scale industrial enterprises and everything in-between.

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