This article is published by Skoda Minotti’s Manufacturing & Distribution Group.
Imagine a future where your shop floor experiences almost no downtime; where equipment malfunctions are eliminated through improved preventive maintenance; where you have instantaneous insight into productivity, throughput and timing of every customer order; where inventory is minimal, but there is never a stock out. Seem like science fiction? Possibly, but it’s coming, and sooner than you may think.
In this digitally transformed workplace, opportunities for workers and owners are significant. Instead of workers being burdened with low skill, low wage and mundane jobs, they have the opportunity for more creative value-added types of work. For owners, this future offers possibilities for greater efficiency, productivity and higher quality, with increased safety at a lower cost.
The good news: This future paradigm is advancing quickly through the Industry 4.0 technology revolution. Even better news: Integrating 4.0 technology and processes is within your grasp, no matter the size or scope of your business.
Technology has made things like cars, televisions and even vacuum cleaners truly intelligent and capable of communicating and self-diagnosing in real-time. Similar yet more advanced technology is being applied to machinery for self-diagnostics and preventive maintenance, robotics to increase safety, and virtual and augmented reality to increase worker productivity. Collectively, this is helping to transform the manufacturing realm to increase efficiency, productivity, safety and quality.
Industry 4.0 is so named because it’s widely considered the fourth industrial revolution. Each industrial revolution in our history has been marked by a core innovation affecting key components of our manufacturing base. In the first industrial revolution (which occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries) it was transformation in power, the development of the steam engine and the ability to manufacture more and more quickly, particularly throughout the iron and textile industries.
In Industry 2.0 (which occurred between 1870 and 1914), the transformation was driven by additional advancements in power, the combustion engine, as well as light (the light bulb) and sound (the telephone and phonograph). Workers could be far more productive with more efficient engines and greater light to see what they were doing.
Industry 3.0 – also called the “Digital Revolution” – began in the 1980s and featured the advancement of technology from analog electronic and mechanical devices to the digital technology that’s available today. Major advancements included the personal computer and the internet.
Industry 4.0 builds on all previous industrial incarnations by employing new ways in which technology is embedded within products and processes. It’s marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields that include robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, biotechnology, the internet of things (IoT, smart devices), 3D printing (additive manufacturing), cloud computing, smart energy and many other components. In a nutshell, Industry 4.0 is the blending of the physical and digital worlds; it takes physical products, adds in digital technologies and processes, establishes wireless connections and fuels it all with boundless innovation.
So, what does all this mean for manufacturing?
The implications are profound.
Within a manufacturing environment, Industry 4.0 manifests itself in three primary ways:
- Smart materials, manufacturing methods and technologies. Advanced materials, additive manufacturing, robotics, distributed power generation and modular operations all fall within this arena.
- This includes things like advanced sensors, remote-controlled operations, highly connected assets that can self-diagnose, monitoring/issue detection, smart distribution and smart machines.
- Computing and big data. This includes advanced computing, analytics and visualization, moving processing and data storage to the cloud, AI, management and processing of large amounts of data, digital infrastructure and cloud computing.
As an example of all this, consider additive manufacturing—aka, 3D printing. Materials used in 3D printing include things like plastics, photosensitive resins, ceramics, cement, glass, metal and metal alloys and even thermoplastic composites infused with carbon nanotubes and fibers. 3D printing is now being used to build everything from toys and household products to prefabricated buildings. The city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is even planning the world’s first 3D printed skyscraper, and city officials are targeting 25 percent of all housing to be printed by 2030.
The Business Case for Getting Started With Industry 4.0
If you’re on the fence about the time and/or cost involved in integrating Industry 4.0 to any degree, we think you should strongly consider it. Some initial steps include:
- Reduce costs: any new initiative takes investment. Identify areas in other parts of the business where costs can be reduced and then apply the cost savings as investment to jump into new technology.
- Adopt business analytics: Analytics are all about measuring the performance of your business. Without gauges and measures to analyze performance, you’ll never know what is improving and by how much.
- Explore 3D printing: If you are a discrete manufacturer (i.e., producing physical products), identify components or products that may be able to be 3D printed. Buying a 3D printer to prototype and test with is a relatively inexpensive way to get started. While 3D printing is not a production model, it does allow you to build skills in new technologies, speed up prototyping and explore new models of production.
- Prepare your staff: You can only be successful with a digital transformation / Industry 4.0 initiative when your staff is prepared and understands what is expected of them. Many employees will interpret a transformation initiative such as this as a cost cutting or employee reduction initiative. Industry 4.0 is more about positioning the staff so they can engage in more value-added work and less in mundane repetitive tasks of the past.
For manufacturing businesses with the infrastructure, resources and leadership necessary to implement Industry 4.0, the potential benefits are significant:
- Reduced cost: General Electric has been able to reduce the cost of producing specialized jet engine nozzles through 3D printing by approximately 75 percent.
- Customized products: With this comes great potential to tailor products to specific customer needs.
- Waste reduction
- Increased staff productivity
We will cover Industry 4.0 in much greater detail in the coming months. In the meantime, if you’re wondering how you can implement or improve Industry 4.0 technology and processes in your manufacturing business, please contact David Mustin at 440-449-6800 or email David.