You’re probably already aware of Industry 4.0 in one way or another. Along with its buzzword brothers, IoT (Internet of Things) and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), Industry 4.0 is a current trend that focusses on the transformation of data and automation into the “smart factory”.
The first industrial revolution started with mechanical production powered by water and steam in the 18th century. Then came mass production and the assembly line in the 19th century. This was then followed by electronic production, IT and automation in the 1960s. The fourth industrial revolution (a.k.a. Industry 4.0) follows this pattern with powerful technologies including advanced robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence and cloud computing. This infrastructure is still considered relatively young however we’re already seeing paradigm-shifting concepts and applications, especially in the manufacturing industry.
First we look at the supply chain and the benefits of agile working. Inventory management systems can connect manufacturers with suppliers, transporters with logisticians, and distributors with retailers. Operating transparently; every stage can receive data from the others allowing automatic resupply. This automoted approach allows the supply chain to operate smoother, preventing shortages and bottlenecks even in difficult situations.
Building on this, we also have industrial machinery that can generate data on how well it is performing. When analysed, this data can help detect an impending fault and flag it for repair therefore saving money and reducing downtime. Future generations of this equipment will be able to share this data via cloud computing which can help lead to more effective deployment methods.
With IoT, manufacturing is becoming more responsive to the needs of the consumer. Manufacturers can now make products in individual batches for the same price as those mass produced. This flexibility can open doors for product customisation in-line with consumer requirements. Personalised products and bespoke solutions can help generate higher margins and greater profits when compared to mass manufacturing methods.
This approach can also lead to savings for the manufacturers themselves. IoT will eventually lead to the replacement of individual legacy systems with a single, flexible and interoperable platform that is more effective to use, cheaper to run and easier to repair.
The fourth industrial revolution will redefine manufacturing as much as the first. We need to change how we think as the technology changes how we work – an approach that many could find difficult. Industry 4.0 requires investment today whilst processes, systems and products begin to gather momentum. Considering all of the above, it’s clear those that wait to see how Industry 4.0 advances could run the risk of being left behind.