As the movement toward Industry 4.0 marches on, advanced technologies are playing a key role in helping companies attain new levels of automation, digitization, and data integration.
Digital operations, or Industry 4.0, is on the agenda of manufacturing companies around the globe. Yet, according to PwC’s Global Digital Operations Study 2018,most business leaders have still not come to terms with the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation or with the conceptual leap it represents.
Distinct from Industry 3.0, which involved the automation of single machines and processes, Industry 4.0 encompasses end-to-end digitization and data integration of the value chain, PwC reports, “offering digital products and services, operating connected physical and virtual assets, transforming and integrating all operations and internal activities, building partnerships, and optimizing customer-facing activities.”
As attendees at this year’s SEMICON West conference learned last month, advanced technology is playing a major role in these new “connected” Industry 4.0 manufacturing environments. Here are five technologies that are already making an impact in the manufacturing environment and helping companies attain their Industry 4.0 goals:
- Integrated sensor networks. “One area where supply chain IoT progress can be seen is within production facilities that integrate sensor networks into machinery to increase uptimes, reduce operational cost, and improve overall quality of service,” writes Steve Rice in Where Supply Chain Meets the Internet Of Things, adding that IoT-driven solutions can aid the efforts of mobile and web applications to control real-time operations and visibility by collecting data like temperature and equipment malfunctions. “Photographic instruments can now scan machine components, such as blades, to send alerts for predictive maintenance. Additionally, scanners can check raw materials for traits like paint color, alloy strength, or fabric composition to confirm accuracy before they are used for a finished product.”
- More predictive manufacturing systems. In the “smart factory” scenario, employees and systems can anticipate and act before issues or challenges arise, rather than simply reacting to them after they occur, according to This includes identifying anomalies, restocking and replenishing inventory; identifying and predictively addressing quality issues; and monitoring safety concerns. “The ability of the smart factory to predict future outcomes based on historical and real-time data can improve uptime, yield, and quality, and prevent safety issues,” Deloitte continues. “Agile flexibility allows the smart factory to adapt to schedule and product changes with minimal intervention.
- Machine learning and artificial intelligence to support predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance has been playing a larger role in industrial environments for years, but the continuing rise of IoT components is providing more information than even before. “When combined with machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools, modern industrial software is better than ever at determining when parts need to be replaced,” Technative reports in 7 Key Trends in Intelligent Manufacturing. “Unlike other technologies, the benefits of predictive maintenance are easy to calculate, making it a technology that’s sure to be at the top of C-level executives’ priority lists going forward.
- On-demand manufacturing systems.The days when manufacturing plants produced large batches of products on uniform pieces of machinery may be numbered thanks to the on-demand economy. In Four Digital Transformation Trends Driving Industry 4.0, Daniel Newman notes that new technology has made quick change in production a reality, and allows companies to dynamically-adjust production to meet their customers’ needs. Sensors installed on the assembly line, for example, allow insights to be accessed and utilized in real-time (i.e., to speed up production, detect waste, pick up on inventory problems, etc.). “For the longest time, cloud analytics devices such as sensors were only available to the larger manufacturers and companies that had the time and cash to use them,” Newman writes. “Now, businesses, organizations and manufacturers of all sizes can take advantage of these tools.”
- Digital transformation tools that complement the human workforce. Despite popular belief, technology is not replacing humans in the manufacturing environment. In fact, PwC says a new value is being placed on people, and that humans are actually at the center of digital transformation.“The leaders of more than 70% percent of ‘digital champions’ (i.e., firms that view digitization in ways that are far-reaching and aggressively innovative), have a clear vision for the digital future and serve as role models for digital change in their organizations,” says PwC, noting that these leaders are investing “heavily in people development and training and cultivate multidisciplinary teams to foster innovation across functional boundaries.”
Making it to Industry 4.0 Status
For manufacturing firms, the digital transformation is critical for success. That’s because Industry 4.0 isn’t just a mindset, it is the only way to ensure you have a future within the industry. “These digital transformation trends driving industry 4.0 are only the first steps too,” writes Newman, who expects even more technology and trends to proliferate in the manufacturing environment over the coming year. “But for now,” he adds, “taking steps to ensure you are ready for complete digitization is the only way to make it to 4.0 status.”