Industry 4.0: The 4th Industrial Revolution

The first three phases of the industrial revolution are said to have evolved through Mechanisation, Electrification and Computerisation. Now, with Industry 4.0, the fourth revolution is taking place in the form of Artificial Intelligence.

In the near future, the factory floor will link the virtual world of conceptualisation, simulation, intelligent devices, and total integrated automation; where production planning, production engineering, configuration of machinery and execution will merge the cyber world with real time equipment.

Financial expert Ross Greenwood believes that industry 4.0 offers infinite possibilities for Australia’s economy. In his article for news.com.au on 7 April 2015, he suggests that Australia has the opportunity to create and embrace the new smart technologies in order to become more globally competitive, especially given our vulnerability to competition from nations with low wage labour forces.

Malcolm Read, Marketing and Sales Division Manager at Sydney based automation firm Coengineer, agrees:

We believe there is a large gap between the level of industrial automation currently implemented by Australian manufacturers in general, and the concept of Industry 4.0. Australian manufacturers are however, well placed to take advantage of the concept to reduce manufacturing costs by having more flexible and intelligent machines to customise products, shorten production runs, reduce downtime, reduce waste and optimise line efficiencies.

Industry 4.0 will require a machine to be intelligent and part of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), another hot topic which we will be discussing in an upcoming article. Machines need to be autonomous, intelligent to self-diagnose problems, and digitally ready with communications to enable key status notifications. For example, depending on the process, some useful status notifications could include: ‘I am clean’, ‘Ready to run’, ‘Configured for product XYZ’, ‘My limitations are X’, ‘I am version XX’, ‘Last maintained and updated on X day last month by X’, ‘Last run was for product XYZ, for X hrs producing X units, with quality of X%’, ‘Predictive failure date is X’, ‘Maintenance downtime scheduled for X’.

Industry 4.0 promises a shorter cycle from concept to production, with a myriad of communicating, yet stand-alone, intelligent devices ready for direction. When management makes a decision to produce a new product; it will be possible for virtual design, 3D printing validation, and production simulation all to take place in a relatively short period of time.

Today we think robots and guided vehicles are smart manufacturing. Today we already have computer controls across the factory floor. Today however, few businesses have the sensors, networks, databases, search functionality, filters, or security to make available and protect BIG DATA. Few businesses have properly positioned themselves to take the next step towards the concept of Industry 4.0.

Are you ready for the next industrial revolution?

As a manufacturer there are two main issues to consider:

  1. Are the communication links / networks in place to allow you to collect and send digital data, set points and configurations across your facility?
  2. Do you have the ability to filter data and make decisions, allowing for automated data interaction in a secure environment?

If you are considering or have already commenced your journey towards industry 4.0, we’d love to hear from you. We invite you to join the conversation, leave a comment, and share your experience!

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