According to GlobalData, a data and analytics company, the fourth industrial revolution – industry 4.0 – promises to transform traditional manufacturing by marrying operational technology with information technology.
Industry 4.0 is simply the next phase in the digital transformation of manufacturing through the use of data exchange techniques, advanced technologies and flexible automation for increased efficiency. It principally aims at enhanced human-machine interaction to drive interconnectivity, information transparency and autonomous decision making.
As the shift to industry 4.0 takes hold, GlobalData’s Disruptive Tech Analyst, Kiran Raj, warns that manufacturers who are too slow to adopt advanced technologies and mindsets risk falling behind competitors who are able to deliver “higher quality products at lower costs.”
According to GlobalData, Industry 4.0 initiatives can be largely distilled down to the adoption of several core technologies, which, if embraced, build what Raj describes as a “Cyber-physical production system.”
In an analysis of its Disruptor Tech Database, the intelligence company identified five fundamental technologies in transforming the industrial manufacturing to be: big data and analytics (BDA), industrial internet of things (IIoT), cloud computing, additive manufacturing (3D printing) and augmented reality (AR).
The company also recognised additional technologies included, advanced robotics, digital twinning, simulation, cyber security, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
On BDA, GlobalData, says the technology plays a ‘remarkable role’ in the manufacturing environment.
Analysing huge volumes of data coming from management systems and sensors fitted to the production equipment allows human workers to distance themselves from machines and tiring and dangerous tasks, thereby increasing efficiency as well as safety.
Mining giant Rio Tinto, for example, by leveraging BDA was able to avoid the unexpected break down of its production vehicles estimated to cost up to US$2m.
Its autonomous haulage system (AHS) has close to 200 sensors producing more than 4TB of valuable vehicle data per day, including exact location, speed and other real-time metrics, across the fleet of 900.
Meanwhile, when it comes to 3D printing, the technology has opened ‘phenomenal’ production opportunities such as product prototyping and mass production of custom tooling.
GlobalData also noted that German carmaker, Volkswagen, became the first manufacturer ready to use the latest 3D printing technology for mass production in the automotive industry. The technology named HP Metal Jet has been tested to increase productivity up to 50 times compared to the existing 3D printing methods based on the component.
“Industry 4.0 can empower building what many refer to as ‘smart factory’ for a truly productive environment with benefits to manufacturers as well as consumers such as enhanced communication, real-time monitoring, advanced data analysis and self-diagnosis,” Raj continues.
The concept of a smart factory is flexibly automated and self-monitoring explains GlobalData. A smart factory enables machines, materials and humans communicate with each other, sparing workers for other productive tasks; ultimately optimising the design and production processes for elevated operational efficiency.
Though the benefits are clear, GobalData warns that beneath the layers, there are critical challenges for manufacturers such as data management, upskilling employees and cyber incidents. Fortunately, there are steps and preventive measures without impacting production. “While incumbents, such as Bosch, GE and Siemens, have been muscling to capture a sizeable share of Industry 4.0, many manufacturers are yet to consider serious investments. Given the benefits over threats, a wait and watch stance may risk their competitive position in the future of manufacturing,” concludes Raj.