If we were to look back at the way our industries and manufacturing processes have transformed over the course of the last three industrial revolutions, we’d be amazed at how far we’ve come. The third industrial revolution arrived in the last decades of the 20th century, in 1969 to be precise. And just in about 50 years, we are at the onset of what is known as the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0.
As we gear up and fine-tune the nuances of Industry 4.0, we come across technologies that are nothing short of revolutionary – bringing unmatched precision to the way manufacturing happens and the way we perceive the industrial sector as a whole.
In this article, we will discuss the technologies and trends of Industry 4.0 that are rapidly revamping manufacturing. But let’s begin with the basics…
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is the term coined for the fourth industrial revolution that encompasses the tech, such as interconnectivity, automation, real-time data analysis, and machine learning. Industry 4.0 minimizes the need for human intervention in factories and manufacturing units, duly replacing them with digital technologies to obtain the desired outcomes with more precision and at a faster pace. Needless to say, Industry 4.0 relies heavily on computers and data for decision-making as well as production.
The conventional market has mixed opinions about Industry 4.0, some experts going to the extreme of calling it simply a ‘buzzword’. But look around the way industries operate today, and you’ll know that industry 4.0 has already arrived, and we are deep-seated into it, so much so that we might have to brace ourselves for an Industry 5.0!
But what makes Industry 4.0 gain the blitz? Let us have a look –
Technologies That Power Industry 4.0 Trends
· Data Analytics
“Data is fueling the growth of Industry 4.0” – Andy Rowland, Head of Digital Manufacturing, BT
Data breathes life into modern technologies, and it is imperative to have real-time data to be fed into these technologies – right from Artificial intelligence to Augmented Reality. Data analytics helps in organizing and managing the data and making it actionable and ready for actual use. In Industry 4.0, data analytics is what fuel is to vehicles and is critical at every stage – from ideation to prototyping, from actual manufacturing/production to maintenance. Data analytics helps drive innovation and strike the harmony within several ecosystems that make Industry 4.0.
And not just that, data analytics immensely helps in resource allocation, optimization, asset planning, and utilization. Industry 4.0 is essentially about collecting data from various sources, pooling it together in the data lake, and then using it to drive modern tech.
· Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
AI revolutionizes the traditional supply chain and helps in driving improved asset management, supply chain, and inventory management, offering better visibility into the supply chain processes, inventory and logistics. Adoption of machine learning, using the data fed by analytics, helps in achieving predictive maintenance in manufacturing, which helps to in turn reduce downtimes as well as maintenance costs.
Further, the combination of AI and ML aids in achieving Predicting Remaining Useful Life (RUL) of machines, equipment, and systems. This helps in tracking their behaviour in operation, improving performance, and predicting the downtimes to optimize the overall operations.
· Internet of Things (IoT)
According to Gartner, by 2020, 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart machines.
The IoT or Internet of things is so critical to Industry 4.0 that it is often used interchangeably and is also combined to be known as IIoT. Industry 4.0 makes wide use of the Internet of things, or even Intranet of things such as robots, sensors, and simulation tools that together contribute to the creation of a smart factory. In a smart factory, several entities such as the machines, systems, as well as the humans communicate and coordinate seamlessly to coordinate and track the production progress along the assembly line.
IoT brings about the change with centralized controls and optimized processes, training, and maintenance with the help of digital twins. Digital twin eliminates the need for working on physical devices or systems to troubleshoot errors but instead creates a replica of the device or system digitally to provide insightful training to support maintenance.
· Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
Augmented and Virtual Reality help in transforming the way data and information are accessed, used and processed, to begin with. AR and VR help in offering training and support to the on-floor factory workers. This significantly contributes to minimizing errors, speeding up operations, and improving overall efficiency.
AR helps in the design process by helping create a targeted user experience by overlaying virtual information in the real world. The technicians can observe the machines and systems without actually handing the device, receive first-hand information on possible inefficiencies and errors that the systems can run into, study its impact, and come up with solutions.
· Cloud Computing
As Paul Maritz, the CEO of VMware, famously quoted, “Cloud is about how you do computing, not where you do computing.” Cloud Computing facilities every other data-dependent technology by making relevant data promptly available for use, irrespective of the location. With cloud computing, storage, access, and management of data across several locations become easy. Cloud environment facilitates data collaboration and exchange, which helps in effectively driving all the processes- right from supply chain to maintenance.
What this means for Industry 4.0 is that while data analytics-driven AI, ML, and IoT are necessary, the cloud is imperative for a ‘factory’ to transition to a ‘smart factory’.