The fourth industrial revolution, otherwise known as Industry 4.0, refers to the transition to cyber-physical systems (CPS) that autonomously utilise and exchange big data through cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). While Industry 3.0 introduced the use of information technology and automation to manufacturing sectors, Industry 4.0 takes automation to another level – providing manufacturers more control over their productivity and efficiency. As more manufacturers begin to implement Industry-4.0-friendly machinery into their processes, those that are hesitant to upgrade will be left behind. What exactly does this mean for manufacturers, and how can they prepare for Industry 4.0?
What is Industry 4.0?
The use of CPS, also known as smart machines, is the integration of computing, sensing, networking, and physical processes into one device. Communicating with each other through the IoT, vast networks of these devices work together in real-time to continuously optimise processes through data and machine learning. Industry 4.0 processes decentralise control systems and put the control into each individual CPS. This allows for more modular and more interchangeable manufacturing systems that can then be tailored to each manufacturer’s particular needs.
How to prepare for Industry 4.0?
As technology advances with time and manufacturers transition to ‘smart factories’, upgrading to Industry-4.0-friendly systems and processes becomes inevitable. It’s important for manufacturers transitioning to Industry 4.0 to first develop a strategy, identify which manufacturing processes could benefit from such a transition and then work towards accomplishing that through the implementation of new machinery, tooling, software, and staff. There are three key steps to take in order to successfully transition to Industry 4.0:
1. Prioritise process improvement
Any transition to an Industry 4.0 smart factory should focus on improving existing processes, currently automated or not. With autonomous processes, manufacturers can drastically reduce costs associated with quality claims and labour – while simultaneously improving part quality and lead time. Additionally, the use of RFID chips or QR codes on tools and tool holders can make logistics and job planning easy in a new smart factory.
Moreover, just as technology changes, people do too. Millennials and Gen Z are now the primary generations in the workforce as older baby boomers enter retirement. With their retirement, many manufacturers are concerned about skilled-labour shortages moving forward, since employees of smart factories should (ideally) be digitally fluent and tech savvy to work effectively. By investing in and implementing automated systems, a sizable investment must also be made to educate and train employees to operate within such a smart factory.
2. Implement and future-proof machinery
Yet another way to prepare for Industry 4.0 is through the implementation and future-proofing of machinery. As new machinery and technology are installed in a manufacturing facility, it’s important to continually test its set-up and operation to ensure the devices or software work as intended. Since each device works independently from the others despite operating in a network, each device or program can be modified individually and on-demand. This allows manufacturers to modify entire networks of CPS and tailor them to their needs by placing CPS where they see fit. All this allows manufacturers to future-proof their investment and ensure they’re ahead of the competition through continuous improvement.
3. Utilise a central network
Although each CPS within a smart factory can operate independently from others, they can still be connected to an all-encompassing network within a manufacturer’s facility. By using this central network, data transmitted from machinery and equipment can be easily accessed and analysed – allowing manufacturers to monitor tool life and automatic tool changes, among other things.
This central network acts as the brain for a smart factory – allowing each device to communicate with the others through the IoT to automate processes and produce quality parts. Additionally, this network serves as the backbone for AI and machine learning. Data is collected and exchanged through the network between devices, which is then interpreted by AI to optimise processes and provide more visibility and predictability of the processes to the manufacturer.
Industry 4.0’s effect on manufacturing is fundamentally changing the way manufacturers produce and do business. Those companies that are reluctant to upgrade their processes will be left behind, as big data and automation are what will make manufacturers stand out from the pack. Transitioning to Industry-4.0-friendly processes can be challenging and difficult to navigate, but it doesn’t have to be. Contact an Exactaform sales representative today to discuss how we can assist in your transition to Industry 4.0 with your PCD tooling solutions.