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Industry 4.0: An introduction and the opportunity

The fourth industrial revolution is here, and it’s changing the way we live and work. Not only that, it’s also challenging the way we, as humans, relate to one another, and even how we perceive ourselves.
Michael Howard

The fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0 as it’s otherwise known) has come about through the adoption of cyber-physical systems - a combination of both physical and digital technologies – that are made up of things like advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT). Let’s be clear, Industry 4.0 isn’t just about digital technology; its real impact comes through interconnectivity, automation and big data.

This combination of technology is bringing with it greater efficiency and convenience, deeper personalisation and smarter systems that are actually helping us to strengthen and leverage our innate human skills.

While Industry 4.0 is particularly pervasive for those in the manufacturing industry, this is a revolution that will leave no sector untouched. For businesses, Industry 4.0 is creating greater potential for collaboration, connectivity and transparency across departments, vendors, products and people. With the real-time clarity that this connectivity brings comes control and deeper insight into every aspect of an operation, and therefore opportunity to optimise productivity, processes and profitability. But this isn’t just about implementing systems; it’s also about changing the way that human and machine work together to continue to drive innovation, competitiveness and efficiency.

 

The nine core technology trends of Industry 4.0

To grasp the opportunities that Industry 4.0 presents, it's vital to understand its different component parts. Here's an overview:

  • Big data and analytics
    Real-time data collection and evaluation from difference sources supports more confident, informed decision-making.

  • Autonomous robots
    Robots are evolving, becoming more autonomous, flexible and cooperative. The premise of robots is less about taking over from a human workforce, and more about learning from them and supporting them to enable a greater range of capabilities and efficiencies.

  • Simulation
    Simulations mirror the physical world in a virtual model. This method of testing allows for machine settings to be optimised virtually first, therefore reducing the time it takes to correctly set-up the machine for the physical changeover.

  • Horizontal and vertical system integration
    With interconnectivity through universal data integration networks and automated value chains comes greater cohesiveness across companies, departments and functions.

  • The Industrial Internet of Things
    An increasing number of devices are evolving with embedded computing, allowing them to integrate and communicate with each other.

  • Cyber security
    Not surprisingly, increased connectivity creates potential for increased cyber security threats. Protocols and secure, reliable systems are therefore critical.

  • The cloud
    The performance of cloud technology is improving, with faster processing times and even greater integration. As a result, machine data will increasingly be deployed to the cloud.

  • Additive manufacturing
    Otherwise known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is used to prototype and produce components, and will be increasingly used to produce small batches of customised products.

  • Augmented reality
    Augmented reality will be used more and more to provide information that improves decision making and work procedures. This information is provided directly in the field of vision (using devices such as augmented reality glasses).

 

Industry 4.0 in action

The automotive industry is perhaps one of the most obvious industries to be significantly impacted by the innovation of Industry 4.0.

Improved connectivity and communication of information and data between each stakeholder is seeing restructured supply chains taking shape. It allows suppliers to adjust to demands with greater flexibility (and therefore make more profitable decisions). That flexibility also allows for more cost-effective customisation - with access to data, there is no need for automobile manufacturers to guess which colours, features and styles will be most in demand. Of course, Industry 4.0 is also having an impact on vehicles themselves, as car design evolves with automation and connectivity in mind. Audi’s vision for its Smart Factory is indicative of the future of car manufacturing, which does away with assembly lines and instead uses modular assembly with human-robot collaboration.

Automotive manufacturers are thinking and behaving like a technology company. They’re not waiting for technological advances to reach them, they are innovating and creating internally, using their data to drive industry-changing ideas, manufacturing efficiencies and product evolution.

The rise in agri-tech solutions is also indicative of how a significant sector is seeking out machinery and technology that supports their land- and labour-intensive work. Precision agriculture combines specialised equipment with advanced analytics platforms to give producers access to real-time information about on-farm factors (such as crop condition, soil, or water moisture levels). In-field sensors, machinery, satellite or drone technology work with cloud platforms, to source, measure and analyse data. Access to this level of data means producers make more informed decisions, leading to optimised use of resources for maximum yield.

 

Start your Industry 4.0 journey

Is your business thinking and innovating like a technology company? Opportunity for disruption is ripe, and early adopters are already demonstrating that an early lead will give them a distinct advantage over competitors who are slower on the uptake. If you’re ready to start your Industry 4.0 journey, get in touch to chat with us about the opportunities for your business.



Talk to us about your Industry 4.0 journey today.



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