The technology behind Industry 4.0
Factories are no longer tied to one specific technology or software. Instead, they are embracing the integration of physical and cyber technology to better enable the optimisation of manufacturing through digitisation and factory automation. This is Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution.
i4.0 embraces the smart factory – a plant or workshop that self-monitors and optimises itself based on the data gathered from integrated sensors and human operators. This is done using emerging technologies or systems like machine learning, sensors, the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of Things.
We know that the benefits of industry 4 are increased productivity, improved customer experience and cost reduction, but what are the technologies behind the smart factory of today?
Big data analytics
Data reveals a wealth of valuable information that can indicate inefficiencies and issues within the factory. Data could run into terabytes, which is an overwhelming amount for the average human. Fortunately, i4.0 includes machine-learning algorithms that distinguish between normal and anomalous patterns. This data is then used to predict bottlenecks and potential cyber security breaches, and the best bit – the more data it’s fed, the better it becomes.
Robotics and automation
What good is a brain without the braun? Industry 4.0 robotics enable an efficient, automation-driven smart factory where machines communicate – both to each other and a centralised control centre. Communication is therefore key to enable evolution of industrial automation and robotics. The byproduct being that the systems will continue to get faster and more accurate. For example, robots will be able to share their operational status to the factory’s central control, which will decide whether the machine is still needed for the task at hand and act accordingly.
Additive manufacturing, is proving to be one of the most defining technologies of the fourth industrial revolution. It embodies the ethos behind i4.0 itself – it’s extremely customisable, energy efficient and cost effective.
Horizontal and vertical integration
There are two types of integration; horizontal and vertical. Vertical integration is the control of manufacturing from start to finish, controlling the most basic level of raw materials all the way to the product’s final assemble. This has many benefits, such as security across the supply chain and increased cost savings. Furthermore, vertical integration eliminates some of the risks involved thanks to efficient and flexible controls.
Horizontal integration on the other hand is the process of a company splitting and spreading into multiple business units. Each would develop the same components and subsequently reduce the costs due to similar marketing, research and development, production and delivery.
Industry 4 allows the collection and utilisation of data from other smart factories within a network – even in different locations. With the collection and sharing of data comes concerns of effective cyber security within the i4.0 environment. Cyber attacks on these systems threatens the data, hardware and can cause untold damage. This includes production loss, defective products and overall financial loss. Technologies and regulations need to be tighter than ever in order to protect smart factories.
Summary of Industry 4.0
The biggest challenges faced by companies are unplanned downtime, sudden failures in the production process and an outdated infrastructure that inhibits innovation. In summary, the technology that forms the basis of i4.0 aims to reduce and eradicate these issues.
Data – it’s collection and its ability to be shared – is key to the success of manufacturers moving forward. Furthermore, the machines collecting and sharing said information need to be able to use it and act accordingly.