Is Industry 4.0 overhyped?

Over the past few years, the manufacturing and engineering sectors have undergone a significant transformation in how they operate, thanks to the digitisation of industrial processes.

This transition is called Industry 4.0 – or the fourth industrial revolution. It’s based on the idea that manufacturers take the widespread adoption of computers and automation that started in the third revolution. They are enhanced with leaner techniques and smarter, more autonomous systems driven by advanced programming, data and machine learning.

Mainstream thinking around Industry 4.0 became prominent six or seven years ago, when the first examples of the complete automation of manufacturing facilities using data, robotics and AI started to come to the fore.

Today, the internet of things (IoT), smart sensors, advanced robotics and programming, cloud computing, augmented and virtual reality are more accessible, available and affordable than ever before.

It means that even the smallest of manufacturers and engineers can achieve improvement through technology to make their operations safer and more innovative, efficient, sustainable and profitable.

Here, we take a closer look at how Industry 4.0 has developed and ask the question, does it live up to the hype?

What is Industry 4.0

In general terms, Industry 4.0 is the name that captures the growing trend towards automation, electrical controls, data exchange and advanced technology in many manufacturing, engineering and industrial processes. It includes:

  • IoT and industrial IoT applications
  • Cyber-physical systems (CPS)
  • Smart manufacturing
  • Cloud computing
  • Big data
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Cognitive computing
  • Artificial intelligence

Several elements can be linked together to create electrical control systems and robotic automation to help enhance and streamline entire manufacturing and production processes. More advanced systems can be augmented with wireless connectivity, sensors and programming to monitor, collect and analyse real-time data, visualise entire processes and make autonomous, real-time decisions to keep systems running smoothly.

The advent of 5G technology will enhance Industry 4.0 applications further by providing faster response times and more seamless communication between systems and machines.

Industry 4.0 also utilises digital twin technologies to create virtual simulations of real-world applications, installations, products and processes. These ‘virtual copies’ can be tested robustly before being replicated in the real world and linked, via IoT applications, creating joined-up real-time data exchange and automation processes which help manufacturers achieve continuous improvement.

The interconnectivity between processes, information transparency and technical assistance also leads to better evidence-based decision-making and enhancements in operational efficiency, productivity, safety and quality assurance.

In short, it enables fully automated and autonomous manufacturing with joined-up systems that can cooperate and interact with each other in real-time, to improve the entire process from end to end.

Industry 4.0’s effectiveness has already been proven through business models such as offline programming and adaptive controls for hazardous manual processes, like arc welding or chemicals handling.

There are also many examples of businesses successfully implementing Industry 4.0 technologies in smart factories across the world, taking the process from product design through simulation and onto the production floor.

By connecting the way human operators and machines work together, estimates say that Industry 4.0 will see more than 60% of manufacturing, logistics and supply chain companies employing in-house robotics specialists by 2025.

What’s our view?

Here at Banelec, we see Industry 4.0 as the future of manufacturing and engineering.

Its technologies and processes will play an increasingly crucial role in creating the smart manufacturing facilities of the future.

They are already being implemented across the manufacturing industry, advancing the way systems are run and streamlining operations and maintenance. This is only set to continue.

As businesses and systems engineers embrace these advances, Industry 4.0 will continue to drive improvements in quality, safety, efficiency and sustainability.

However, we believe that manufacturing and engineering businesses won’t get the most value from Industry 4.0 component technologies or capabilities in isolation.

Instead, the benefits will come from integrating robotics, automation, data and analytics to create smarter manufacturing processes that enhance efficiency and productivity, unlock new business and operating models and deliver unique competitive advantages.

However, this cannot be accomplished without greater integration across systems and processes and a desire to disrupt the status quo.

We don’t doubt the potential value or significance of Industry 4.0, and the business case for investment in its technologies and applications across the manufacturing sector has never been stronger.

After all, nobody wants to be left behind in the race to develop the production facilities of the future.

Getting ahead of the game is essential, as Industry 4.0 will continue to grow and become more commonplace in even the smallest factories and production facilities.

So, if you’re ready to make your manufacturing processes smarter, safer and more sustainable, Banelec can help. Give us a call today to find out how.