Streamlining production, increasing efficiency and decreasing costs of operation are top priorities for all companies. The advent of technology and the astounding developments that have and continue to take place are assisting businesses in achieving precisely these goals. The first industrial revolution evolved our labour force by mobilizing the mechanization of production through water and steam power. The second granted us mass production through electric power and following this, the third brought IT and electronics into the workplace to further automate the production process. In 2011, in Hannover, Germany, the computerization of manufacturing was demonstrated as the next industrial revolution and dubbed “Industry 4.0”. The industry of the future is here today.
There are three key players in the Industry 4.0 concept and today’s world of product development. The first are humans who are increasingly taking a back seat when it comes to manual labour and falling into managerial positions and supervisory roles. Next, there are smart factories that allow products to communicate with one another, improving automation and decreasing defects, downtimes and waste. Finally, we have cyber-physical systems where computers control physical entities, closely tied to robotics, that through means of intelligent mechanisms are able to increase key factors such as reliability, autonomy, functionality, safety and much more in the work place. Together they create a comprehensive vision of the future of production and by operating under Industry 4.0’s six principles can ensure the success of this new ideology:
1. Interoperability: In order for Industry 4.0 to function well, humans, cyber-physical systems and smart factories need to be able to smoothly connect and communicate with each other. This is made possible through the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services.
2. Virtualization: The creation of virtual copies of the physical world allows cyber-physical systems to monitor physical processes through virtual plant models and simulation models. In case of failure humans can be notified.
3. Decentralization: As the demand for individual products continues to grow, it becomes more and more difficult to control systems centrally. The decentralization of Smart Factories means that cyber-physical systems are able to make decisions on their own making central planning and controlling obsolete.
4. Real-Time Capability: A benefit of smart factories and cyber-physical systems is the ability to collect and analyse data immediately and continuously implement the results to focus on constant optimization.
5. Service Orientation: The services of companies, cyber-physical systems and humans can be readily accessed through the Internet of Services and utilized by external and internal parties.
6. Modularity: The flexible adaptation of smart factories allows the adjustment of individual modules based on a number of requirements such as seasonal fluctuations or changes in a product’s characteristics.
Industry 4.0 can today be found operating in diverse areas such as aerospace, automotive, civil infrastructure, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, and entertainment amongst many, many more. As a young concept it does pose a variety of challenges, such as IT security issues, stability, lack of adequate skill-sets, amongst much more as society adapts to this major development. However, already in implementation, its effects can be seen and felt throughout the business world. Finally, much like the first industrial revolution had a huge influence on society as a whole; Industry 4.0 is paving the way for a worldwide evolution in connectivity, automation and artificial intelligence.