Enabling Technologies of the Industry 4.0

The enabling technologies on which Industry 4.0 is based can be summarized as follows:

•  IoT and IIoT. The Internet of Things or IoT allows the connection of devices through embedded systems in order to communicate and be able to interact with each other or with centralized devices. And on the other hand, the IIoT refers to the use of IoT technology in the industrial field.

•  Cyberphysical Systems. Cyberphysical Systems are devices with computational, storage and communication capabilities that are able to control one or more physical processes. These devices are interconnected with each other or with the global network through the IoT.

Image courtesy of: NIST

•  Big Data, Data Analytics and Data Mining. The large volume of data generated by the new technologies based on IIoT and Cybernetic Systems is used for the purpose of improving and optimizing processes (production and logistics) and services (sales, after-sales, etc.), and on the other hand can provide us with a predictive tool capable of predicting problems that can be derived from the industrial processes by a means of the abnormal measurement in sensors or the calculation of probabilities of a failure according to the behaviors of the machinery.

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Cloud Computing. Cloud Computing is based on the use of services (software and storage) from the network without having a physically infrastructure to provide these services, which means that other infrastructure is used to provide these services from another geographical location.

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Augmented Reality or Mixed Reality. Unlike Virtual Reality where both the environment and the information displayed are graphics processed by a computer, the Augmented Reality uses the real physical environment to provide us with data and information in real time. This technology is a very powerful tool that can be used to support production processes and improves decision making based on the information that provides.

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•  Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing. The Additive Manufacturing by a means of 3D printers allows the production of complex parts in a record time at a competitive cost, reducing logistical costs and facilitating the production of small series or prototypes.

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•  Cybersecurity. Due to the introduction of new technologies in the industrial environment based on the use of the Internet and Open Source software, more reliable and robust information and communication systems (ICT) are required to ensure the protection, privacy and security of the companies. That is why companies and multinationals are taking this issue very seriously.

Nowadays the use of the new technologies such as Quantum Encryption or Blockchain are being investigated and developed as an alternative to the current technology used in Cybersecurity, which has shown on more than one occasion that it is not impenetrable. Cybersecurity is one of the issues that most concern companies and multinationals when start the journey towards to the digital transformation.

Image courtesy of: BBVA – OpenMind

•  Collaborative robots (Cobots). Although industrial robots have been performing complex and repetitive tasks on production lines for years, they have evolved dramatically in recent years, becoming much more autonomous and flexible, but certainly what is going to be a trend in the field of the industrial robotics is the insertion of Collaborative Robots into the production lines.

These new generation of robots are capable to interact with each other and cooperate with humans without the need of safety restrictions that have been applied so far.

Foto: © Ford/Friedrich Stark,Foto: © Ford/Friedrich Stark

Image courtesy of: Ford Media – Friedrich Stark

•  Artificial Intelligence (AI). Although different types of Artificial Intelligence currently exist nowadays, the need to implement technologies and tools capable of processing in real time the flood of data that needs to be processed in the industrial environment of the fourth industrial revolution, has led to the investigation of the implementation of Artificial Intelligence Systems for this purpose.

These systems must be able to process and learn from the information that they receive and act accordingly in a totally autonomous way in order to be able to predict future results, behaviors and trends without having been explicitly programmed in advance for those tasks.

•  3D simulation. The 3D simulation of production lines or logistics operations is already being used nowadays as a tool for design and analysis of results in many companies that desire to open new production or logistics centers, or intend to expand or optimize the operations of existing centers.

However, these tools are expected to be the key in designing and optimizing the operations of the future factories so that they are able to project the physical world into a virtual model from the real-time data.

Image courtesy of: SIEMENS – Digital Factory

•  Digital Twin: The concept of Digital Twin was invented by NASA from the need to have their systems “mirrored” so that they can maintain and repair taking into account the difficulty of physical access of these systems.

Nowadays, this technology is being used in the industry to create virtual models of any service, product or hyperconnected process that enable the optimisation of them from the information and intelligence gathered. An example of the use of this technology is the prevention of machinery failures also called Predictive Maintenance.

Image courtesy of: Aingura IIoT

•  Drones. This technology is increasingly carving a niche in the industry. It has already been incorporated in the manufacturing and logistics processes in order to carry out tasks such as maintenance inspections in machinery or installations, warehouse inventory, product searching or parcel delivery.

Engineers and researchers are immersed in the search for new tasks that can carry out this small flying device.

drone work in classic warehouse 3d image; Shutterstock ID 248134027; PO: digital initiatives

Image courtesy of: SAMSUNG – Drones

•  Horizontal and Vertical Integration. In this new paradigm of the Industry 4.0, computer systems shall be more integrated and connected than they are nowadays, which means that all the business areas from production and supply chain until reaching the end customer, will require a total integration and linkage to be able to offer a better service and quality during the value chain of their products life cycle.

This integration should be also extrapolated to the different departments that compose the internal structure of the companies in order to seek greater cohesion that could bring a high business value.

Author: Javier López.