Eaton Corp. Vehicle Group uses Industry 4.0 to tackle COVID-19
An engineer inspects a urethane methacrylate (UMA) impeller that was 3D printed using digital light synthesis (DLS) technology.
Courtesy of Eaton

Eaton Corp. Vehicle Group uses Industry 4.0 to tackle COVID-19

Advanced manufacturing technologies allow company to continue innovating despite difficult conditions.


Galesburg, Michingan – Eaton’s Vehicle Group has been leveraging advanced Industry 4.0 technology to help its global operations safely navigate the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and continue to service its customers.

Eaton’s Vehicle Group envisions Industry 4.0 as operational and informational technologies, enabling autonomous production systems that are connected, optimized, transparent, proactive, and agile. Supported by an integrated ecosystem, the technologies are composed of augmented reality (AR), rapid application development, autonomous robots, digital simulation, and additive manufacturing (AM).

Vehicle Group President João Faria said, “By leveraging AR, we are able to continue to support our operations remotely and continue the development of new products, ensuring our customer deadlines are met despite the global challenges we are all facing.”

Industry 4.0 uses include:

Displaying 3D images and connecting remotely to improve safety

Vehicle Group teams are using Microsoft’s HoloLens AR goggles to display 3D images in physical spaces and connect remotely. This remote assistance technology ensures that ongoing work can be performed while keeping everyone safe.

Enhancing training and expediting review processes through AR

AR also assists with knowledge retention and ongoing training. The Vehicle Group used the technology to train operators and engineers on new equipment, which would have traditionally been conducted by instructors who travel to the various remote sites. Additionally, the technology has proven critical for recent customer reviews and approvals.

Analyzing data to reduce costs, improve quality, reduce lead times

Interconnected plant systems and machines collect, analyze, and report real-time information, which optimizes plant floor management and provides visibility to real-time production issues in order to address them right away. These efforts are designed to reduce lead times; maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO), inventory, indirect-labor/direct-labor costs; as well as increase performance and improve quality.

Implementing robots to promote safe distancing and increase productivity

To optimize manufacturing flow and eliminate the need for forklifts and other human-operated transport machinery, the Vehicle Group is using autonomous automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). In addition to improving the flow of materials throughout a manufacturing facility, AMRs and autonomous AGVs increase safety and allow for social distancing while lowering costs.

COBOTs are being used to safely handle complex and repetitive tasks. This results in improved consistency and accuracy during the manufacturing process.

Using digital simulation to improve production efficiency

Digital simulation applications define which solution and/or combination of factors will result in the highest output. These applications can run several scenarios by changing parameters, such as the number of operators, work in process material, cycle times, and operator standardized work. The applications are being used to define new manufacturing cells and assembly lines or to redesign existing ones. In most cases, the Vehicle Group is seeing productivity increase from 10% to 30% percent via higher production output or reduced amount of investment needed.

Leveraging 3D printing tools internally to expedite processes

AM improves safety, quality and efficiency by designing and producing tools, poke-yokes, and gages internally on polymer and metal materials. This allows fast reactions (shorter lead times), reduced purchase costs, and highly customized solutions. For example, lead times can be reduced from weeks to days, while reducing costs from thousands to hundreds.