The web-enabled Industry 4.0 promises to change what we have today in the manufacturing process, and for this the robotic systems have to be rethinked from a rigid system to a flexible system able to build custom products in mass production. Plans and strategies already exist or are being prepared, but this is not all. What we already have and what is the target for ‘Smart Factories’ can be found in this article, along with many more challenges and how the fourth industry works.
The new industrial revolution consists of a series of new methods for optimizations, configuration, diagnosis, cognition and intelligent support of workers able to govern themselves in a decentralized and modular system.
A smart factory need smart equipments designed to exchange data from machine to human, from machine to machine, or from human to machine. All of these informations are exchanged in real time, while the systems are faced with a large amount of data.
Efficiency and flexibility are the keywords for the fourth industrial revolution; it is about to become a lot more efficient, produce lower cost products, adaptation to customer demands, and a real-time control of production.
What Is and How Works the Industry 4.0
The fourth Industrial Revolution is about the consumer experience, goods customization, Internet of things and remote control using smart devices, about smart machines used in the manufacturing process and proximity to the consumer, in a few words this revolution will bring many more trends able to change our society and build a new industrial world.
The Industry 4.0 will have a huge impact over the human-machine interaction since the engineers are able to control, monitor, or optimize the machines remotely using a tablet or a laptop, as well as a high impact over the machine-to-machine connections as a growing trend able to develop smart robots that are more than simple repetitive task electro-mechanical machine.
The entire manufacturing process runs automatically.
If you want to buy custom shoes, for example, with your own personal signature and colors, the manufacturing process includes many more stops for each shoe on different pasting shoes stations. Each shoe is equipped with a chip or code that contain all relevant information about the customization including the material color, signature model, where the signature is applied to the shoe, and the delivery place. Each stop for the shoe represents a change of information between the system and the shoe, and what is wonderful is that the entire manufacturing process runs automatically.
The Industry 4.0 is a new concept first used at the Hannover Fair in 2011 by the German government as a plan to combine the cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things in a new flexible manufacturing system.
The final goal is to build what we define from several years ago as the ‘Smart Factory’. In general terms, the ‘Smart Factory’ has to be adaptable, resource efficient and ergonomic, and it should integrate the customers in the manufacturing process more deeply than is now.
Timeline of the industrial revolution
- First industrial revolution – the first industrial revolution was in the late 18th century and brought in the manufacturing process the steam power;
- Second industrial revolution – the second industrial revolution was in the late 19th century and is followed by the introduction of mass production using the electrical power;
- Third industrial revolution – the digital revolution and implicitly the automated production began in the mid-1970s the third industrial revolution;
- Fourth industrial revolution – with the term of ‘Smart Factory’ we reached what we call today the Industry 4.0. This new concept will revolutionize what we have today and will be the base of what will happen in the fifth Industrial Revolution that will come just as other revolutions. The Industry 4.0 is able to make customized goods autonomously, and for this we all will give a helping hand to reshape the factories and the manufacturing processes;
What’s needed for Industry 4.0
In the coming years we should have a clear vision over the fourth industrial revolution and many more challenges will be faced, while several others have already been shaped.
From our days until to the first smart factory with highly efficient, flexible and customizable mass production will be a tough transformation process where new technologies merged with several other technologies already used in the billion dollar industry.
These days we use on large scale sensors, wireless communication technologies, artificial intelligence, or industrial control systems. All of these technologies will be used to develop new adaptive and intelligent platforms enable to communicate the information received from sensors and able to take decisions autonomously. The system has to be able to produce the next product for which all parts are in stock and deliver to the right machine on time. At the same time the suppliers are alerted about the components needed in the next delivery cycle.
Using several control systems and wires is not possible to have an adaptive system ready to build large-scale custom products.
For example, a GPS module can be used to track the mobile robots around the factory floor, while the robots communicate each other’s through Bluetooth, WiFi or other wireless transmission technologies. Using artificial intelligence and QR codes or RFID tags enable the systems to take autonomously decisions and provide information about each product on the conveyor belt. A broad range of sensors is involved at every stage and ready to provide information to the control system.
Celebrating the first implementations
Amazingly, many more companies are involved in projects aiming to build and distribute products in a more efficient manner.
The first big name that I can think of is Amazon, which bought the Kiva Systems along with its self-propelled robots able to travel around the warehouse to retrieve and carry the packages. Perhaps this is the first step in building a new type of online shopping focused on speed, flexibility and accuracy.
There are many expectations from food and beverage industry, as well as auto-making industry, which working hardly to enable the individualization of mass production.
Another example is the Foxconn company with its production lines designed to produce up to 1 million Apple products per day. The Cupertino based company makes frequent changes to its electronic products, changes that must be taken by the Foxconn manufacturing lines and processes.
Not only the shopping and electronics manufacturers are in the transformation phase toward the fourth Industry era. There are many expectations from food and beverage industry, as well as auto-making industry, which working hardly to enable the individualization of mass production.
Challenges of Industry 4.0
The future cannot be negotiated as well as avoiding the next challenges that will come once with implementations of the Industry 4.0. The researchers and engineers have to work to improve or design several technologies such as securing the cloud technology able to store huge amount of data collected from the manufactured process, the information changed between the robots, or the data collected from the customers. Data security already exists as a high priority topic on the agenda of managers, engineers, researchers, and many other people engaged in maintaining the security of data.
Data security or create new jobs are just two challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.
Another challenge is to create jobs and limiting the number of jobs that will disappear once the new manufacturing systems will be implemented. Even it’s a sensitive topic, I have high hopes that plenty of new jobs will be created, while other jobs will be transferred to other areas – something similar with just as happened in previous industrial revolutions.
These are few challenges from a long list that is already stated and will be filled over time with more and more other issues.
We are on the border of two industry worlds: one world is based on mammoth robots capable of repetitive tasks, while a new world growing and is based on innovative technologies along with several concepts and prototypes.