Is Your Factory Ready for the 5 Sweeping Changes Brought on by Industry 4.0?

Manufacturing Insights

Is Your Factory Ready for the 5 Sweeping Changes Brought on by Industry 4.0?

For a change to be considered a revolution, it must be a massive change that fundamentally alters society at its core. Each of the first three industrial revolutions described above took manufacturing to new heights never before imagined. We cannot yet see how far Industry 4.0 will take us, but, based on what has happened so far, the future looks bright and full of improvements in productivity, quality and profits.

The term Industry 4.0 was first coined around 2013 when the German government released a strategy document explaining “Industrie 4.0” as a way to fully automate and computerize the manufacturing industry, removing the need for human intervention.  As it is still a relatively new phenomenon, there is some confusion and conflicting reports over what exactly characterizes this newest revolution. Following is a summary of what are becoming the agreed-upon key defining elements of Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 – A giant leap forward

Calling this revolution Industry 4.0 is a play on the way updated software releases are numbered and is a nod to the shift toward the digitalization of, well, everything. It is precisely this interconnectivity of devices and more advanced computing technologies that are driving this revolution. All of the elements of Industry 4.0 work together to create greater productivity and efficiency and to allow for better performance, speed and reliability across all industries. 

The 5 key elements are:

1.    Big Data -the power of information

Data expert Lisa Arthur defines big data as “a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis.” There is an endless amount of data that can be gathered and analyzed and used to make business decisions. The more “connected” machines on an assembly line are, the easier it can be to extract data from them about their efficiency, maintenance requirements and any other necessary information. A key element of Industry 4.0 is the ability to monitor activities and extract huge amounts of data and then easily analyze and interpret it which will lead to better and smarter decision-making.

2.    Smart Factory – Artificial Intelligence unleashed

The term “smart factory” is similar to “smart phone” or “smart house” and refers to the increased use of technology to create connections between disparate parts leading to a more effective system. For example, a smart factory uses technology not just to automate one part of the production process, but the entire process from planning, to development to production to supply chain logistics.

3.    Cyber-Physical Systems – machines operating machines

According to the US National Science Foundation, if the internet changed the way people interact with information, cyber-physical systems will change the way people interact with engineered systems. Industry 4.0 is characterized by the increase in such systems, in which computers monitor and control physical processes. Put simply, software is embedded in a machine on an assembly line which monitors the way the machine is behaving. Based on what the machine does, the software interprets that action and then causes a reaction – i.e. if the machine is overheating, the software will shut it down.

4.    Internet of Things/Industrial Internet of Things – a truly connected world

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection of any device to the internet or to other devices allowing them to communicate and share data with each other.  This technology has been around for a long time and many factories and companies are already using it in limited ways within a department. Industry 4.0 advances will allow for the IoT to communicate across departments as well, fully connecting and automating all parts of the development, production and supply process. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the Internet of Things that refers specifically to industrial applications, such as connecting machines to other machines in order to create “smart factories.”

5.    Interoperability – seamless integration of multiple technologies

You may have noticed an overlap in the four elements described above. It is exactly that overlap and the combination of those elements and the way they work together that truly defines Industry 4.0. Advanced technology provides a platform for all of the elements of a production facility to communicate with each other and adjust the way they operate accordingly without the need for significant human intervention. Data can be gathered automatically and multiple people can have access to the same information,  eliminating double-work and inaccuracies.

The current reality in most work environments, particularly factories, is dynamic. Things are moving fast and changing at a rapid pace.

Consider: what do I know about what is happening in my factory?

what do I not know but need to know in order to make effective changes?

Industry 4.0 and the technology it brings can provide the answers to those questions. But Industry 4.0 also brings with it other questions, one of the most important ones being what happens to the humans who manage and work in manufacturing?


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