We’re now witnessing the birth of Industry 4.0, an industrial revolution of supreme importance that promises technological and biological advancement without the devastating carbon emissions.
Nobody can predict where we’ll end up, but manufacturers can, and should, ready themselves for a period of immense change. How? By learning about and investing in transformative Industry 4.0 technologies, many of which we explore below.
Read on as we define Industry 4.0 and explore the many ramifications for engineer-to-order companies.
Industry 4.0 Definition
Industry 4.0 is a “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” That’s according to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, who popularized the term Industry 4.0 in his seminal 2016 book The Fourth Industrial Revolution
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Industry 4.0 refers to modern smart technologies like AI, machine learning, IoT, and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication taking the automation of traditional manufacturing to new heights. Manufacturers are using Industry 4.0 technologies to build smart factories, consisting of smart machines that self-monitor, analyze, optimize, diagnose, and solve problems without human input.
Why is it 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is a slightly old-fashioned Web 2.0 sort of way of referring to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the latest world-shaking technological shift through which we’re currently living.
For those of you desperately trying to recall your 7th Grade World History, the previous Industrial Revolutions looked like this:
- The Industrial Revolution: Kicked off in Britain in the latter half of the 18th Century. Transformed rural societies in Europe and America into industrialized ones. The arrival of steam power meant that goods previously crafted by hand could be manufactured in bulk by machines.
- The Second Industrial Revolution: Also known as the Technological Revolution. Took place between the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. Oil, steel, and electricity brought about the internal combustion engine, the telephone, and the light bulb. Railroad expansion heralded an explosion of economic production.
- The Third Industrial Revolution: The Digital Revolution that we all experienced during the latter part of the 20th Century. Personal computers, digital communications technology, and the Internet changed how we work and interact with each other forever.
Industry 4.0 Technologies
These are the most transformative technologies from the perspective of engineer-to-order manufacturers:
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
When people think of AI, what comes to mind is often artificial general intelligence – the ability of a machine to understand and learn every intellectual task just like a human. But artificial general intelligence is still very much at the hypothetical stage.
What we mean by AI is the capability of machines to make independent decisions based on large data sets. We’re talking about automation on steroids with use cases that include:
- Defect detection: identifying errors on the production line.
- Predictive maintenance: detecting flaws in machinery and carrying out repairs before it’s too late.
- Generative design: coming up with “imaginative” design options based on design goals.
2. Cloud Computing
Without cloud computing, there’s no Industry 4.0. Thanks to the cloud, services such as data storage, networking, servers, and software can be accessed on-demand, enabling manufacturers to launch and scale new projects and processes without the cost, risk, and maintenance.
3. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
The internet of things refers to networking physical objects (things) through embedded sensors, software, and the cloud. In factories, this means that machines can speak to each other, working collaboratively towards a common goal.
Use cases include:
- Connected everything: Knowing the live location of raw materials, inventory, and deliveries in transit. Also machinery, workers, and operator tools like hammers, drills, and wrenches.
- Power Management: monitoring consumption from things like lighting and HVAC, combining this data with weather forecasts and energy prices, and tweaking settings to reduce costs.
4. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)
Additive manufacturing is an industrial production technique used to create three-dimensional objects by printing them in layers. Anything from parts, molds, jigs, tools, and even shoes can be 3D printed. It’s a breathtaking technology with far-reaching consequences for broader society.
The production capacity and speed of additive manufacturing en masse are, as yet, nowhere near rivaling those of huge offshore factories, but additive manufacturing’s strengths lie in other areas:
- Prototyping is super-fast and super-cheap.
- Machinery is small enough to be housed locally (relocalizing production).
- Small- and medium-sized companies can create small production runs and compete with big multinationals.
- Opportunities for product configuration and customization are endless and profitable.
5. Robots and Cobots
Thanks to technologies such as machine vision, natural language processing, and most crucially, AI, conventional robots are becoming increasingly “intelligent.”
The kind of everyday robotic arms that have tended our production lines for decades are evolving into robots that are autonomous, capable of performing multiple complex tasks, and collaborating with human operators (cobots).
6. Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR)
VR and AR – two distinct technologies often lumped together – have so many use cases in the engineer-to-order space it’s mind-boggling.
Manufacturers can use VR in training (exposing new hires to simulated environments), sales (transporting buyers into virtual showrooms), and product design (interacting with hypothetical products in real-time).
Manufacturers can use AR for product assembly, order picking, warehouse safety, quality control, marketing, and visual product configuration.
Which Industry 4.0 Technologies Are Right For You?
The range of Industry 4.0 technologies is so broad in scope that it’s hard to know where to begin. Should you invest in a visual CPQ solution with integrated AR and VR, an AI chatbot, a localized additive manufacturing facility, or all of the above?
When considering your options, a good starting point is the Industry 4.0 design principles set out by the IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.) Any investment you consider should score highly against the following criteria:
- Interconnection: Machinery should be able to communicate independently and continuously, free from human involvement.
- Information Transparency: Data collection and analysis should drive rapid, data-driven decision-making.
- Technological Assistance: Machines should free employees to focus on creative work by taking over all rote, complicated, time-consuming, and dangerous tasks.
- Decentralization: Cyber-physical components – devices and machines – should operate independently within more extensive interconnected networks.
The Bottom Line
Thriving in the Fourth Industrial Revolution means lower costs, higher profits, faster growth, better risk management, a streamlined workforce, and the ability to compete with the likes of Amazon when it comes to serving your customers online.
Companies that fail to embrace Industry 4.0 risk falling behind an advancing pack of manufacturers who implemented smart technologies when they had the chance.
KBMax can give you instant access to a suite of integrated Industry 4.0 technologies for an affordable monthly charge. Get in touch to find out how we can help.