Industry 4.0: Defining the Next Generation Factories

All the digitization happening around us has made our lives easy and convenient. The huge transformation that has been happening for years across different sectors has brought in enormous opportunities in terms of employment, end-products, services, business revenue and new age innovations.

Let us have a quick lookback at history to understand where all this started and the evolution of the different industrial revolutions!

The First Industrial Revolution started in the late 18th century where the use of coal, water and steam revolutionized the industrial production. This period had immense impact on civilization with innovations in large scale manufacturing of goods and the development of steam-powered locomotive. Humans could consider moving great distances in fewer hours.

The late 19th century defined the Second Industrial Revolution with the emergence of electrical engineering and the idea of mass production. The first moving conveyor belt was used in a slaughter house, wherein the carcasses were hung on conveyors and the meat cutters would slice off different parts and disassemble the animal piece by piece.

Then came the Third Industrial Revolution in the mid 1970’s when electronics and information technology began to expand rapidly into the industry. Computers and digital systems brought new ways of data transfer and processing leading to exploration of transistors, controllers, automation, robots, etc.

Now the researchers and companies are working on the next industry revolution – Industry 4.0 – The Fourth Industrial Revolution

This transition will bring a transformation in today’s manufacturing systems and is aiming to resolve the daily challenges of manufacturers.

The core requirement of any manufacturer is to increase their production time with high throughput and with best quality.

Industry 4.0 is set to bring a concept of an intelligent factory system where machines and products will communicate with each other, cooperatively driving production – Everything will be interconnected wirelessly.

Industry 4.0 is an integration of the digital and physical worlds. Industry 4.0 is not easy to define as it is an amalgamation of different concepts. It is based on a vision to bring a holistic approach in the manufacturing environment by combining the learning of humans, machines, analytics and predictive insights.

It will benefit the companies to make an efficient use of resources with an ability to predict future needs.

Let us take examples!!

There are huge machines in the manufacturing plants. Say for example – an oil refinery/chemical plants.

Oil and gas plants and the chemical industry demands a high degree of automation. Monitoring of the machines is quite challenging in such intense environment and it is difficult to gather data related to temperature, flow rate, tank level, pressure, etc.

How Industry 4.0 can be helpful here?

An advanced concept of analytics known as soft sensor can help derive insights from the data gathered in a working plant. Soft sensors measure product quality factors that cannot be measured directly by hardware sensors in real time.

Soft sensors are software models that can provide sensing information like the hardware sensors. They are widely used in on-line monitoring, fault detection, process optimization, detection of pipe leakage, mechanical and structural strains, etc. With this technique, you can plan maintenance in advance before the situation worsens and save on cost and quality loss.

Advanced Robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are key technologies that will play a significant role in the next phase of disruptive Industry 4.0.

Amazon’ warehouses are an example of automated warehouses of the future. Amazon now has more than 100,000 robots in action around the world that are making the physical jobs less taxing.

These industrial robots are not only used in smart manufacturing and inventory management but also in real-time monitoring and pro-active maintenance without the need to send an engineer to troubleshoot some issue.  

In order to build a ‘smart factory’ and maximize the many advantages of the fourth industrial revolution, manufacturers need to make multiple partnerships across the supply chain. It is an entire journey and the early adopters will gain benefits in the future through perfect production.

There are many other use cases as well which I will cover in-depth in my future posts. I will be writing a whole series on the development and enablers of the Industry 4.0. Hope you will enjoy reading the recent updates on this and share your Industry 4.0 experiences with me along the process.

Sources: Siemens, ABB, Amazon, Mckinsey

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