To provide an insight into the networking industry, Westbase.io runs a “What Is” blog series. Take a look at the latest edition; What is Industry 4.0?
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is the term given to the rise of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, and is also known as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. As well as encapsulating the Internet of Things, it also relates to the increased use of autonomous robotics and cyber-physical systems, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. For some use cases, it even includes augmented and virtual reality.
The growing sophistication of automation has been steadily rising in the manufacturing industry; a recent report conducted by Tractica Research has estimated that the sales of automated technology such as logistics, robotics and manufacturing systems will continue to grow at a rapid pace, reaching a market value of $22.4 billion by 2021.
Some examples of how industry 4.0 is impacting manufacturing businesses today are:
Automated robots or “bots” come in various shapes and sizes, but what makes them special is their ability to perform repetitive tasks quickly and continuously, therefore rendering them an extremely efficient and reliable asset in the manufacturing process.
Actions are coordinated to the bots via a centralised system, sending them vast amounts of data while using algorithms to direct them along a specific path to then perform tasks, such as collecting items from storage or arranging items for processing.
Many companies are developing their own robotic systems, allowing them to customise them to their own specifications. An example includes maximising storage space by allowing bots to stack items higher than their human counterparts would safely be able to. Another is programming their bots to “communicate” with each other to perform complex tasks quicker as a team, and as bots are interchangeable, companies won’t experience downtime if one bot breaks down, as the rest of the bots can continue performing the task.
“Picking”, a process usually conducted by warehouse workers who spend time selecting certain items for delivery, is vastly becoming a digitised process as well. To improve picking speeds, some companies are deploying automated crane systems to pick and place items, saving typically 10 seconds per pick (potentially 15% extra picking cycles per hour). Pick-to-Voice technology is even more advanced; with pickers set up with wearable headsets and microphones, the centralised system can issue picking demands while the pickers confirm their actions directly back to the system as they work. Leveraging robotics for picking can help manufacturing companies to process items more quickly, feeding components into the manufacturing process at an accelerated rate.
Industrial IoT and Cloud
Using the power of machine to machine automation, also known as Industrial IoT, manufacturers can produce larger volumes of products, faster and more cost effectively, while still maintaining quality control. This process approach also reduces the risk of human error and can remove the most dangerous elements for workers – helping to improve safety.
For manufacturing tasks that still require human control, the risk of injury may be great. To address this, many machines are being fitted with IoT sensors that detect specific movements and objects that get too close to dangerous machine parts, forcing the entire machine to immediately stop before an injury can occur. The ability to temporarily halt machines before a worker sustains an injury, not only helps to improve safety and working conditions but also prevents costly damage and company down-time.
As well as assisting with efficiency and safety, automation can also help to avoid potential machine break-downs. Many automated machines are wirelessly connected, constantly feeding data and diagnostic information back to cloud-based systems. This allows operators to monitor the entire manufacturing process, providing them with key indicators as to when machines need repairs or maintenance – this is also called proactive maintenance.
Producing this advanced reporting by collating data from multiple sensors into a single system, also allows companies to determine if their automated systems are running at optimum capacity, or if changes to the process need to be made to maximise efficiency. As systems progress, and more data is collated, Big Data will come into its own to enable Artificial Intelligence in the manufacturing process – enabling the system itself to make smart decisions about ways it can self-improve.
The advancements afforded by Industry 4.0 don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, but the idea of automated machines completely taking over manufacturing processes is still a futuristic notion. The incorporation of smart technologies into manufacturing processes has nonetheless allowed industries to take more control over costs and efficiency of workloads, providing companies with a competitive edge, and allowing their human workforces to focus on what they do best to add the most value to the process.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this “What is Industry 4.0?” article. Westbase.io offer connectivity solutions that are essential to modern industrial processes. You can read about our Industrial IoT and other connectivity solutions on our Industrial Connectivity page here.