• Emerick Varga

Industry 4.0 and The Future of Manufacturing

The fourth industrial revolution is finally here it has forever changed the manufacturing sector. The concept is designed around automation, data analytics, connectivity, and human-machine interaction. Industry 4.0 is among the most talked about subjects in the academic and industrial domains, but it is still widely misunderstood. In this article, we’ll go through the basics of industry 4.0 and see how it affects the manufacturing industry.





What is Industry 4.0?

In simplest terms, Industry 4.0 is the digitization of any industrial process. It bridges the gap between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) by leveraging data analytic capabilities and superior human-machine interaction allowed by modern technology. Industry 4.0 often refers to the term ‘smart factory’ which uses autonomous processes and connectivity options to facilitate the exchange of data and bring significant improvement to the existing industrial processes.


Why is industry 4.0 considered a revolution?

Apart from needing some major start-up capital, there aren’t any negative things to say about industry 4.0. The immense potential it has ensures that manufacturers start noticing a major difference in their performance from the first day.


Industry 4.0 technology replaces the need of having huge inventories and their associated management challenges. Similarly, this technology limits human intervention and automates the entire manufacturing process. Lights-out manufacturing or dark factories are results of the advances in industry 4.0 technology. Now you don’t even need a single employee to keep your factories running without needing any breaks or holidays.


Automation is not the only thing industry 4.0 brings to the table. The technology allows you to minimize the wastes in your value chain and optimize your manufacturing process. The ability to convert, process, and understand the data gives decision-makers the ability to identify potential bottlenecks and rectify them before they become a huge problem for everyone involved. As a manufacturer, you also get to enjoy great productivity and efficiency, which increases your revenue.


Components of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Industry 4.0 relies on three pillars to introduce unprecedented changes in the existing manufacturing setup. These pillars are enhanced connectivity, intelligence, and flexibility in automation, which creates a thriving environment for optimized manufacturing with minimum wastes.


The three pillars we discussed work similar to the foundations of a building. All pillars in a foundation are equally important and the building is guaranteed to collapse even if a single pillar fails. Just like that, the three pillars of industry 4.0 work together and augment each other. To get the best results, a manufacturing company needs to have control over the following domains.


1. Internet of things (IoT)

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to an industrial ecosystem where all physical devices are digitally interconnected. The technology represents connectivity, the first pillar of Industry 4.0. This connectivity can automatically boost the performance and efficiency of any system by a significant degree. Moreover, IoT helps you streamline the entire supply chain and maintain optimum inventory levels at all times. The technology allows you to become leaner and add value to your manufacturing process without making any compromises.


2. AI and Machine Learning

The second pillar on which the fourth industrial revolution stands is intelligence. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning make it possible for the manufacturing environment to process huge clusters of data within seconds.


IoT devices come equipped with numerous sensors, actuators, and other components. The generate a complex set of data strings every second and it would be impossible for any human team to collect, convert, and make sense of them in time. That’s where big data analysis comes into the picture. Modern computers with Artificial Intelligence (AI) can easily sort through the mountain of incoming data to give you actionable insights.


3. Additive Manufacturing and Robotics

The final and most commonly known pillar of industry 4.0 is the ability to set up small-scale manufacturing plants on multiple locations. This ability not only saves money in freight costs but also gives you the ability to make complex models with only a few clicks.


Similarly, robotics is another advanced field that is driving the fourth industrial revolution by giving repetitive and dangerous tasks to an industrialized robot, which can be designed to sustain harsher environments and perform tasks without any chances of human errors.


Before industry 4.0, robotics was only a developing field while additive manufacturing (AM) was only used for rapid tooling. Combined with the other pillars of industry 4.0, AM technology has given birth to connected industries like digital manufacturing and distributed manufacturing.


Qualities of an industry 4.0 compliant manufacturing environment

Any manufacturing environment implementing industry 4.0 technology must have some key qualities that are necessary for success.


Interoperability

This basically means that items in your physical infrastructure must be compatible with each other, so they can be smoothly connected over an IoT system. Manufacturers need to ensure that the setup they have is suitable for their journey towards industry 4.0 technology.


From the existing Cad/Cam setup to your ERP system, everything will have a role to play. So, it’s imperative that they can handle the system’s demands.


Information transparency

In an industry 4.0 setup, the main selling point is the interconnectivity between different functions. For that to happen effectively, the organization needs to have transparency within its ranks. Having a lot of red tapes would make things unnecessarily complex, which will in turn affect your productivity.


Technical assistance

More than ever, businesses are judged on their ability to add value to their customer’s processes. It’s important to have a dedicated team to help customers with their decision and give insights on their design requirements. This is not the requirement for an industry 4.0 company specifically, but it's crucial to reiterate the importance of having a strong customer management program if you want to succeed in the market.


Redundancy plans and security measures

With innovation in technology and infrastructure, the system becomes vulnerable to new kinds of threats that never existed before. To counter this, its important for manufacturing companies to keep working with their security resources to reduce the chances of any mishap.


Using the added security provided by cloud services along with investing in the right tools is a surefire way of minimizing the exposure you have. As a business owner/manager, you also have to be prepared for the worst. So, making a couple of redundancy plans according to some possible scenarios can go a long way in making sure that you contain the damage.

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