What is industry 4.0?
The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is one of the big buzzwords flying around. To better understand Industry 4.0, we need to look back at history.
The first industrial revolution started in the 1770s when we went from hands to machines, from farms to the first factory. Innovations like the flying shuttle, the water frame, and the power loom made weaving cloth and spinning yarn and thread much more accessible. Producing cloth became faster and required less time and far less human labor.
The second industrial revolution, about 100 years later, was when electricity came with assembly lines and the start of factories that we know today were built. Factories sprawled and people’s lives became regulated by the clock rather than the sun. It was a tremendous transformation in people’s lives.
The third industrial revolution, the digital revolution, started in the 1970s. This era witnessed the digitalization and automation of electronics and computers. It's also characterized by the invention of the internet and the discovery of nuclear energy.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Industry 4.0 is still debated, and boundaries must be fully defined. It's still moving with continuous improvement of many technologies, tools, and changes in business needs.
If the third revolution was when computers were introduced, the fourth industrial revolution optimizes the usage and introduces new automated technology. It was obvious that computers needed to be handled by humans, but now computers do not require human interaction. Instead, the computers are making decisions, collecting data, and optimizing results for automated improvements. The more data collection the computers do by themselves, the more they learn how to optimize processes. As a result, the already smart machines are getting smarter and wiser. The ultimate power of Industry 4.0 (and a big fear for some) would be if intelligent machines started to learn from each other and collectively gather data and results.
Industry 4.0 Technologies
We know it’s all about digitalization and automated value chain processes, including several areas. Let us explain some of the critical areas you should know about.
- Big data analytics, including the Internet of Things (IoT). This means gathering large amounts of real-time data. For industries, this data can be collected from resource planning, customer relationship management, production line data, supply chain information, and delivery processes. This plays a significant role in Industry 4.0 because it provides insights for better decision-making if applied to real-time analytics.
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)means that you can collect extensive real-time data by applying sensor suits to robots, machinery, and equipment. By analyzing this data, industries can optimize and improve their productivity. Ultimately this will help industries minimize downtime while at the same time being able to track customer behavior.
3D Printing is mainly used for prototyping and straightforward tooling. There are a few cases where 3D printing has been used with more durable materials (such as titanium, steel, and aluminum), and repairing compressor blades for gas turbines is one example. The cost of 3D-printed metallic parts is currently high but rapidly shrinking.
- Autonomous machinery minimizes the need for human intervention in programming, assembly, testing, inventory logistics, and delivery. Software is quickly becoming more advanced and, at the same time, more user-friendly. For example, based on operator input, robots will self-create the control software. Examples in consumer products are car collision avoidance and lane-keeping control.
- Digital Twins are virtual models designed to reflect physical objects. The digital model is used for internal design, simulation, and design reviews. Once the whole structure is in Model-Based D, it is easy to extract any digital twin. Although the digital world may always be accurate and perfect, the real world is not, and there will always be as-designed versus as-built deviations to handle. But a digital model helps in simulations and corrective actions.
- Cyber Security in all its forms. With Industry 4.0, company assets and properties are mostly available in digital format, and cloud storage is increasing exposure and risk. Operational digital failure is apparent, and therefore, IT security is vital. Robustness is a keyword, and there will be a continuous development of protecting digital assets from being compromised.
- Augmented Reality, or AR, overlays digital data in a natural environment and is core to Industry 4.0. In the real world, AR is primarily used in gaming. For industries, it's more common to use a video tool for knowledge transfer, troubleshooting, inspections, and training. Smart glasses are an integral part of AR and are typically used when an operator or technician needs both hands free. However, a mobile phone or tablet can create the same functionality in many cases, as the video stream can be paused, and both hands are still free.
All these components within Industry 4.0 are crucial for industries to stay ahead in the competition of reaching the ultimate 'smart factory, and we can only guess what the future of industry 4.0 holds. However, we see that enterprises that adopt new technologies like AR have paid off.