¿What is Industry 4.0?

Meaning of Industry 4.0

The concept of Industry 4.0 was first mentioned in 2011 at the Hannover Messe fair (event dedicated to industrial technology) with the intention of launching a project to carry out with the conception and development of the intelligent factory associated with the fourth industrial revolution. A vision of the computerized manufacturing with all its processes interconnected with each other making use of the Internet of Things (IOT), nowadays called the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT).

        Image courtesy of: Industrie 4.0 platform

It is said that two years later the German government launched this initiative with the idea of facing the great advances in industrial matters that were taking place in emerging countries such as China or India, and because the western countries were not able to compete in cost of production, the idea was to overcome them in industrial technology and in the ability to manufacture products in an individualized way of production. Although, as we could see nowadays, these countries have already board on this fourth industrial revolution once launched in Europe and later in the United States, where the concept of Industry 4.0 is called Smart Manufacturing or Industrial Internet.

Image courtesy of: Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition

The term of Industry 4.0 covers many concepts and purposes, but the first advances in this area involve the inclusion of greater flexibility and individualization of the manufacturing processes. The automotive industry is a pioneer in the necessity to start up these flexible and individualized manufacturing processes, and is where we could see a great progress in this area because the manufacturers have to adapt the vehicles to the individual customer’s needs in a quickly and efficiently way.

Image courtesy of: SIEMENS – Digital Factory

Design Principles

The design principles on which companies and organizations are based to implement industry 4.0 are as follows:

Decentralized decisions. Cybernetic Systems must be able to make decisions for themselves and to perform their tasks in the most autonomous way possible.

Image courtesy of: Glory LTD Factory (Japan)

Interoperability. People, appliances, sensors and machines must be able to communicate with each other. The Internet of Things (IOT) plays a very important role in this matter.

Image courtesy of: datasciencebe.com

  • Technical assistance. Cyberphysical systems must offer support and collaboration to humans in all tasks that are dangerous, produce tiredness or fatigue, or are unpleasant. On the other hand, they have to offer an aid or support capable of adding visual information intelligible to the human in order to predict the possible problems and / or solve them in the shortest possible time.

Image courtesy of: Naviworks

Information transparency. Information systems must be able to create a virtual copy of the physical world that surrounds them through the data collected by their sensors and other devices connected to their ecosystem.

Image courtesy of: Smart Factory

Challenges of Industry 4.0

It is expected that the new concept of Industry 4.0 associated with the fourth industrial revolution and Cybernetic Systems will be able to drive fundamental changes to the same level as the previous three revolutions. Let us remember that in the first revolution, the mechanics driven by energy generated by water and steam were introduced, in the second, the electricity and the mass production invented by Henry Ford, and in the third, the automation and the proliferation of the information technologies.

Image courtesy of: Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com, CC BY-SA 4.0

If we had to define what are the most important challenges to be faced by the companies and organizations that implement Industry 4.0, we would say the following important issues:

• The development of software and analysis systems that convert the flood of data produced by intelligent factories into useful and valuable information.

Image courtesy of: Christoph Scholz, CC BY-SA 2.0

• Respond to the current problems in energy saving and natural resource management.

Image courtesy of: 3M Smart Energy

Cybersecurity. Systems must be strongly protected against any cyberattack due to the need of industries to introduce open source systems to adapt to the digital transformation of their processes.

Image courtesy of: Christoph Scholz, CC BY-SA 2.0

Avoid computer or communication failures due to the immense immersion of software and IT infrastructure to which the companies’ computer systems have to be subjected. These failures could lead to large economic losses.

• The lack of qualified personnel to lead their companies towards the fourth industrial revolution.

Reticence of the companies’ managers to take the road towards the digital transformation of their businesses.

Massive loss of jobs due to the automation of the processes where the operator plays a role now. The majority of the operators will need to be professionally reconverted, adapting to new jobs that today do not exist and that will emerge with this change of paradigm.

Image courtesy of: Daily Record News

• Ensure the return on investment (ROI) generated by the new technology required for the digital transformation of the companies.

Apart from the points mentioned above, it is worth noting that nowadays the vast majority of companies do not have state-of-the-art infrastructures, consequently they will face more problems and they will require more investment to achieve the digital transformation of their productive processes, since this requires a state-of-the-art industrial automation systems that can integrate more and more sensors, new technologies, and wireless communication capabilities. Factories must gain in interoperability and mass data collection of the elements that their production processes contains in order to achieve real improvements in manufacturing efficiency and flexibility, and they must be able to manage and analyze these large quantities of data.

The engineers who are immersed in this area, have been developing industrial solutions for the data analysis in the area of Big Data and Data Analytics based on open source for several years, taking advantage of the benefits that this type of platforms offer.

Companies must implement technologies and Big Data software capable of managing and analyze the large amounts of data collected from the manufacturing environment in order to take the necessary actions in each case.

What is clear is that the small, medium or large companies should be aware that the digital transformation of their production plants, processes and other areas of their business is necessary if they do not want to be pushed out of the race towards the fourth an industrial revolution that has just begun and that still has a long way to go.

Author: Javier López.