Imagine you are the manager of a leading manufacturing company. One of your responsibilities involves managing operations at an automotive component plant.You are home one blustery night when your cell phone buzzes. You received an instant text alert from the factory about machines breaking down.
A little later, a second text arrives. And then a third, and a fourth. The texts are being sent automatically, prompted by readings taken by tiny sensors embedded inside the machines. The intense storm in the area wreaked havoc with the wiring and disrupted proper functioning. As you are at home and not physically present at the factory, you will not be aware of the actual problem. What would you do?
You will immediately make a run for the factory to check out the problem and find out what happened.
What if there was no need to go to the factory? What if you could access everything that goes on in the factory via your tablet or smartphone and even take control measures? What if you can switch on your tablet to access the animated schematic maps that sent signals for everything happening at the factory and take preventive measures?
Welcome to the new Industrial Revolution–Industry 4.0, a wave of technologies and ideas that are creating a computer-driven manufacturing environment that bears little resemblance to the dirty shop floors of the past. The revolution threatens to shatter long-standing business models, upend global trade patterns, and remake the manufacturing industry.
Industry 4.0 facilitates the vision and execution of a "Smart Factory". It has been defined as "a collective term for technologies and concepts of a value chain organization" which draws together cyber-physical systems (CPS), the Internet of Things (IoT), and the Internet of Services.
There are nine identified technological trends that are said to be primarily instrumental in shaping industrial production.
Big data and analytics
Business cannot afford to ignore the data coming in, as it might prove to be very useful when it comes to optimization of production quality and service, reducing energy consumption, and improving efficiency in the production process.
The use of robots in the manufacturing process is no longer new. Creators of these robots are designing them to be more autonomous and interactive, such that they are no longer simply tools used by humans but integral work units that function alongside humans (cobotics).
With another industrial revolution looming, simulations will become more advanced and extensive, such that they will play major roles in the optimization of production, as well as product quality.
Horizontal and vertical system integration
Industry 4.0 aims to have fully integrated IT systems. Imagine a manufacturing sector where engineering, production, marketing, after-sales, and suppliers are all closely linked together. Similarly, companies will also be more integrated, giving rise to data integration networks and value chains that are fully automated. Collaboration among companies and industries will surely be facilitated.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
Embedded computing and networking are seen to be requirements if a manufacturer wants its processes to be fully integrated and automated. The IIoT will make this possible, since field devices will be designed and equipped for networking, so that they are able to interact and communicate with each other while also becoming connected to a control center.
As companies and factories are going online, there is an increasing demand for higher security, considering the amount and nature of data or information that is uploaded or shared in the networks. Industrial systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats. To address this, cyber security measures will have to be take care of.
In the cloud
The usual cloud-based software that a manufacturing company has been using in the past may no longer be enough to hold all that data. Thanks to the continuous efforts of developers, cloud technologies are improving, becoming more enabled for manufacturing and production systems.
Personalization and customization of products is one way for manufacturers to improve product quality and meet the growing demands of their customers. By luck, additive manufacturing is making this possible, enabling manufacturers to come up with small batches of products that are customized in ways that offer more value to end users, while reducing cost and time.
Augmented reality (AR)
From production to marketing and after-sales support, companies are increasingly relying on mobile technologies to carry out its business processes. And this is where they are trying to use AR-based systems.
No new process or technique is without its obstacles or stumbling blocks that it must overcome in order for it to be fully implemented, operational, and successful. The same goes for Industry 4.0. It is subject to several key challenges that must be addressed if it is to be fully adopted by manufacturing sectors all over the globe.
The factory of the future—the smart factory—will represent the pinnacle of technological and manufacturing development. It will be the perfect integration of high-tech tools and high-tech workers, where defects and downtime, waste and waiting will be long forgotten issues.
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