Manufacturers are on the brink of a major leap in production called Industry 4.0. It describes the current generation of workflow processes infusing smart technology, big data and brainpower. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “ [M]anufacturers that successfully implement the Industry 4.0 technologies best-suited for their businesses no longer need to choose between focusing on a better top line or a more profitable bottom line – as they can improve both at the same time.”
Industry 4.0 succeeds Industry 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Industry 1.0 references the 1800’s development of water-and-steam-powered machines to aid workers as businesses grew and production capabilities increased. Industry 2.0 refers to the early 20th-century introduction of electricity as the primary power source for machines and allowed for revolutionary production methods including the division of labor, assembly lines, mass production, just-in-time and lean manufacturing practices. Industry 3.0 references the latter part of the 20th century when production was impacted by the advent of electronic devices such as integrated circuit chips, the development of software systems, and planning tools for resource management.
Futurist Bernard Marr highlighted an example of Industry 4.0 in … (cite the reference here): “By using the data from sensors in its equipment, an African gold mine identified a problem with the oxygen levels during leaching. Once fixed, they were able to increase their yield by 3.7%, which saved them $20 million annually.”
“In a 2015 Internet of Things Study… 43% of the more than 350 manufacturers that participated in their analysis had a limited companywide understanding of Industry 4.0.” These manufacturers do not understand how Industry 4.0 can and will impact their business. In other words, the message is “Evolve or die.”
Characteristics of Industry 4.0
Marr described Industry 4.0 technology as interoperability amongst machines, sensors and humans. As a result, we’re entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum: “It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries….”
Industry 4.0 Manufacturing
In manufacturing, the use of robotics (see Craftech Robotics) has led to more cost-effective production lines. Industry 4.0 gives rise to the “smart factory” — a seamless connection of technology, big data and human decision-makers. The advanced hybrid model leads to machines designed to make decisions without human supervision.
Autonomous, decentralized decision-making means less brainwork. An Industry 4.0 smart factory can anticipate problems before they occur. Within the manufacturing process, big data and machine learning can foresee challenges ahead and make adjustments in real-time. The results are higher productivity and financial savings for the manufacturer.
The future of manufacturing combines complex hardware and software. Industry 4.0 identifies nine areas:
- Robotics and advanced human-machine interfaces
- Big data and related analyses
- Cloud computing
- Industrial internet and the Internet of Things (IoT)
- Horizontal, vertical and customer system integration
- Augmented reality
- Additive manufacturing
Plastic gets more shine in Industry 4.0
A high-tech, smart factory relies on safe, durable equipment. Plastics have already been incorporated into major industries like robotics, automotive, aerospace and medical. Industry 4.0 will open doors for more plastic applications. Plastic is paving the way for lighter and better prototypes of equipment necessary for Industry 4.0’s infrastructure.
Small manufacturers need to act
It’s evident that challenges may surface for small to mid-sized manufacturers as the industry leader’s pivot to Industry 4.0. In order to conduct business with these corporations, others will also have to follow. Right now, while small to mid-sized manufacturers remain vulnerable, those preparing for Industry 4.0 may leverage the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership network.