The latest trend in manufacturing combines automation and data exchange, also known as Industry 4.0. This industrial revolution is set to change the way suppliers, analysts and engineers work together. Industry experts predict businesses using industry 4.0 will be able to increase their productivity by 30%.

We take a closer look at Industry 4.0 and what it means for the manufacturing industry.

The Path to Industry 4.0

The first industrial revolution (1760-1840) saw a transition from skilled artisans making goods by hand to workers using machines powered by water wheels and steam engines.

The second industrial revolution (1870-1914) was characterised by new improvements in technology where electricity replaced water and steam, becoming the main power source for factories. This led to the start of the assembly line, interchangeable parts and mass production.

The third industrial revolution (late 1900’s) saw the introduction of disruptive new technologies – automation and computerisation. These advancements changed the world of manufacturing enabling industrial robots, machines and Computer Numerical Controls (CNCs) on the shop floor.

Industrial Revolution

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution and introduces customised and flexible mass production technologies.

Technologies such as cyber-physical systems (CPS), the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence are integrated into production and manufacturing systems.

Robotics are connected remotely to computer systems that are equipped with machine learning algorithms that can learn and control the robotics with little human intervention.

Smart Factories

At the centre of Industry 4.0 is the smart factory, where machinery, people,  products and systems are all connected.

Smart Factory 2The IoT enables the machines, devices and sensors to connect and communicate, whilst sharing data with each other and with people in real time over  the web. This means processes can be managed, shared and accessed across different plants. Factories become digitally connected to the rest of the supply chain.

Cyber-physical systems monitor the factory’s physical processes and can make decisions on their own. This makes it possible to automate processes along the supply chain and eliminates routine tasks for workers. For example, products can communicate with machines and initiate the next manufacturing steps, devices that need to be serviced, can automatically notify the technician.

Benefits of Industry 4.0

Integration of various systems throughout the manufacturing processes allows decision makers to act proactively to any potential changes that can arise due to various factors such as; change in demand, stock and production levels

Physical-digital-physical (PDP) loops allow for a higher level of transparency throughout company structures. Companies can locate and respond to problems faster between various teams and departments. Such company-wide networks can record and integrate information from all aspects of the business, from warehousing right down to prototyping; production; marketing and sales. Not only does this increase transparency firm-wide, but also allows for transparency with clients and customers. Every aspect of every process can be analysed at any time and tools such as Artificial Intelligence can be used to forecast and plan for the future.

Challenges of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 Automation

As manufacturing continues to advance, we have seen the rise of so-called ‘collaborative robots’ that take away the need for humans in traditional production lines.

Due to safety implications and a peak in technology, autonomous robots have been unable to completely eliminate the need for humans in the production line, but now, this could change. Although, as industry 4.0 continues to rise, this could change, as rises in software and technology id


Industry 4.0 in the Automotive Sector

We are already seeing Automotive OEM’s using Industry 4.0, for example Volkswagen uses RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to capture data from components in test vehicles.

RFID chips are fitted onto the components by suppliers. During vehicle testing, engineers can identify the installed prototype parts easily and display the information required for development.

Audi are utilising sensor-equipped manufacturing, where they have designed self-learning technology for stamping operations on press lines. The technology uses sensors to measure the force exerted on steel and aluminum blanks to automatically adjusts how much material is fed into a press.This reduces the number of rejected parts and wastage.

Industry 4.0 can help manufacturers to save time, increase productivity, reduce waste and costs, and respond effectively to customer demands, however to succeed, they must overcome the challenges.

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