Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, are terms used for the current trend of automation and data exchange in Manufacturing Technologies. This revolution includes Cyber-Physical systems, the Internet of Things and Network Connectivity, together with a culmination of process, systems and people to form a “smart factory”.
People will form the most important role in this fourth industrial revolution because information, analytics and automation will become the norm, and human intelligence will be the deciding factor in leveraging this information to create a differentiation in the marketplace.
Imagine a scenario in which key information from every aspect of production is captured and shared — from suppliers to engineering, from machines running on the production floor to workers performing inspections and maintenance.
Bringing together factories, supply chain members, quality control, data management and customer service under one communication umbrella affords the opportunity to spot problems earlier, implement cost savings at all levels, improve customer satisfaction and increase profitability.
To connect efficiently affects the ability to compete effectively
That’s the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things and it will revolutionise manufacturing.
To be able to take advantage of this Value Chain and gain the benefits of IIoT “things” need to be connected, data needs to be filtered and analysed, and organisations need a robust network coupled with Big Data.
Hardware costs have decreased dramatically, we now have pervasive connectivity, increased network speeds and development tools are fast and easy. This is the time for the fourth industrial revolution because the technology chasm is closing and will provides a greater expanse to support the digital revolution.
A significant percentage of industrial factories still have silos of software and data, operating autonomously from one another e.g. the production and quality may not talk early in the cycle in order to identify and avoid quality issues, which affects the product delivered to the customer. Or Operations is not alerting Maintenance to the cause of a persistent downtime issue, which could cause severe disruption to production. A high percentage of factories still have homegrown solutions or point solutions that connect pieces of the factory, but the information is fractured and can only address one element of efficiency.
Actions need to be taken at each step of the process, with the ultimate goal of connectivity in mind. Manufacturers can look at current equipment, equipment purchases, supplier contracts and customer service communications, with an eye toward unification and open standards.
IIoT will revolutionise manufacturing operations, but such a significant shift in infrastructure and methods carries risk, but it will bring incredible advantages to those willing to get on board this journey train early.
When thinking forward to a software solution, to match the vast data of IIoT, it should include the following features and functions to properly connect a factory: production planning, scheduling, performance management, workflow and labour management, work-in-process, inventory management, sustainability/energy management, and material management, to name a few. These are the features and functions found in a typical Manufacturing Execution System (MES). With an MES software solution managing data, assets, and processes in an IIoT-based system, managers will have a comprehensive view of operations rather than juggling the complexities of daily operations. Managers can spot trends and patterns, and use those insights together with proven methods such as Lean and Continuous Improvement. Imagine the benefits if when an order was placed there was a seamless transition to production – information was transmitted to packaging, machine communication was invoked and all these components flowed through to Transportation Logistics. Each components operating independently yet connected by an information network.
Several companies are already reaping the benefit of Industry 4.0 such as Caterpillar, Airbus, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Bosch, and many other prominent industrial brands.
Where should you start?
You could identify a business problem and start to connect a few devices. Once data is being collected you can start to analyse and visualise this data, including the machine data. This should lead to actionable insights and operational efficiencies. By taking this small step you will be on your way to establishing an IIOT competitive advantage for your business.