We're 20 years into the 21st century, and Industry 4.0 is well under way. Some of the initial concepts which seemed so revolutionary a few years ago are now well understood and adopted. The capabilities offered by quantum computing, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and cognitive technologies are leading to enhanced industrial performance. This has significant impact in areas ranging from nanotechnology and robotics, to advanced materials and 3D printing, or additive manufacturing.
Forward-thinking industrialists have already invested in these new technologies to enhance their productivity and streamline their modes of production. The IoT (Internet of Things) has progressed rapidly to the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), and industry leaders the world over are moving forward.
So what exactly are the benefits of Industry 4.0? They include:
One of the advantages of AI and big data analytics is that these systems allow much greater flexibility than previously envisaged. Data is gathered constantly and in real time, taking in anything from the movements of the global economy, to microscopic alterations in the supply chain and consumer demand. Industry 4.0 amalgamates traditional manufacturing practices with sophisticated technology which allows for constant recalibration and decision-making. It enables the complete value chain to be visible in real time, and can provide immediate and rapid responses to change. Further, it enables a much greater degree of customisation, allowing customers a more personalised service.
Industry 4.0 also offers improved agility in production and reduced lead-in times. The level of production can be more easily scaled up or down, and new products may more easily be introduced to the production line. Fully automated systems also provide opportunities for customisable manufacturing runs, and optimisation of high-mix, low volume (HMLV) manufacturing.
As your understanding of the new technologies increases, you'll gain a greater overall knowledge of the manufacturing business. Mobile control devices will provide greater transparency in supply and distribution chains, manufacturing processes and business performance. This ability to see the whole picture will highlight opportunities to innovate, develop new products, optimise distribution, or otherwise improve business processes.
Another benefit of Industry 4.0 technologies is improved efficiency. Many of the traditional processes are being automated, with machine learning loops that constantly adjust performance in accordance with received data reports. This will result in less machine downtime, as well as enabling faster batch changeovers and introduction of new products.
Additional benefits include the use of virtual or augmented reality in product development, together with the capacities of digital twins. These advanced capabilities allow designers to explore and resolve issues in a proposed design before it goes into production, thus saving enormously on pre-production tests and modelling. More efficient business decision-making will result from machine monitoring and better data analytics, with enhanced quality control via automatic track and trace processes and RFID tagging.
In the world of IoT and IIoT, everything is connected, and communicates rapidly and in real time. Traditional channels of knowledge sharing are superseded by automated connections and mobile device controls, ultimately enabling a much greater degree of connection and collaboration. Time zones, physical locations and types of platform are immaterial when data from machine performance and multiple types of sensor can be relayed instantaneously across the globe.
One of the additional benefits of Industry 4.0 communicability is that it requires no human intervention. While this may cause concern to those who envisage an AI global coup, machine and system data communications can function 24/7 without interruption across multiple production facilities worldwide. This enables them to act on sensory data and make continuous adjustments to automated production, without reference to human control.
Industry 4.0 technologies such as AI and machine learning enable faster and greater production by each piece of equipment, and by the system as a whole. Advanced monitoring and predictive maintenance will ensure that systems are kept running at optimum capacity, and maintain a steady, quality-controlled output.
At the same time, you'll be optimising the allocation of resources, reducing both wastage, and downtime through machine failure. The use of AI in warehouse management, collaboration with robots, and track and trace technologies will combine to streamline supply and delivery, and thus increase overall productivity.
Increased profitability is the ultimate result of reducing costs and increasing production. The upfront investment is going to be significant, and the benefits of Industry 4.0 won't be immediate. However, you will see long-term improvements in scale and rate of output. Manufacturing costs will fall dramatically at your facilities when you introduce integrated automated systems and make use of data management. You'll find that resources are used more effectively, manufacturing and distribution processes speed up, and overall product quality improves. Downtime will be reduced, along with wastage and overall operating costs.
Industry 4.0 technologies enable the production of higher quality products at a higher profit margin. They can also allow a greater degree of flexibility for innovation, such as using HMLV processes to offer customised products. Traditional methods of mass production can still be used to make those products, but additive manufacturing and nanotechnology can allow for a higher degree of individualisation.
One of the greatest benefits of Industry 4.0 is the opportunity it offers to enhance your customers' experience and improve the service you offer them. RFID tagging and track and trace capabilities, for example, will help you resolve supply and delivery problems much more quickly. In addition, you'll see improvements in product quality and availability, and will be able to offer customers a great deal more choice.
While the ROI opportunities offered by the adoption of Industry 4.0 are significant, it's not all about the bottom line. A decision to adopt new technologies will require an up-front investment that may not give you an immediate payoff, but will provide other substantial benefits. Increased and faster communications, more informed decision-making, and enhanced manufacturing oversight will all result from adoption of IIoT technologies and advanced automation.