As far as manufacturing goes, Industry 4.0 means connected, intelligent production equipment able to make decisions without human intervention and throwing out lots of data for analysis or on which to act. It also foresees a digital twin of a production system that supports virtual system what-ifs and new layout planning. Data from the real world system is used to update the virtual one to improve its output, too. Automatically reconfigurable production systems and mass customisation (often involving additive manufacturing) are other facets.
Industry 4.0 additionally also takes in connected products that feed data back to their owners, designers or suppliers. An example of a connected and upgradeable product that everybody likes to use is electric car Tesla, which is upgraded, just like your phone, via a software download. Connected machine tools are coming.
The over-arching key element is availability of masses of data and the processing of that data, the latter often in the cloud, using high power computers.
As our feature notes, EEF has published a primer for manufacturers. Very helpful, although perhaps less helpfully, the organisation has coined its own phrase for Industry 4.0 – 4IR (fourth industrial revolution). It’s another to add to the list: Industrie 4.0 (Germany), Industrie du Futur (France), Produktion der Zukunft (Austria), Fabbrica Intelligente (Italy), Industria Conectada 4.0 (Spain) and Produktion 2030 (Sweden). Add catch-alls ‘Smart Factories’, ‘Factories of the Future’ and ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), too.
Machinery has been told that Industry 4.0 is scalable, so it means something different to smaller companies than it does to large ones. But the image of an industrial revolution conjures up more than simply connecting machines to internal management networks and reading a few machine conditions, or receiving equipment status reports by text message, or watching your machine remotely on a tablet computer. That may deliver incremental benefit, yes; a revolution, no.
Yet everybody that supplies some small piece of technology that slots into the Industry 4.0 landscape is heralding it as ‘Industry 4.0 compatible’ or some such. It isn’t helpful and confuses and diminishes the Industry 4.0 grand vision.
So with our new ‘Industry 4.0 watch’ articles, Machinery will attempt to convey information as clearly as possible, because there is no doubt that unstoppable change, a revolution, approaches.
First published in Machinery, January 2017