In the realm of modern manufacturing, a revolution is underway. Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, is transforming the way manufacturers operate, bringing with it a wave of technological innovations that are reshaping the industry's landscape.
This article explores the impact of Industry 4.0 technologies on manufacturing productivity and how they are changing the game for businesses worldwide.
The Foundation of Industry 4.0
The 4th industrial revolution, also called Industry 4.0 only makes sense if we look at the three industrial revolutions that have come before:
- Industry 1.0: The introduction of steam power and water power
- Industry 2.0: The introduction of electricity and high-throughput production lines
- Industry 3.0: The introduction of computational control systems and automation
- Industry 4.0: The introduction of networking and communication between siloed systems
At the core of Industry 4.0 are several cutting-edge technologies that are being seamlessly integrated into manufacturing processes. These technologies work in harmony to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and improve product quality. Let's dive into the key pillars of this transformation.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Imagine machines communicating with each other in real-time, alerting the production teams when a machine is down, enabling them to adjust production schedules accordingly. IoT enables just that. Sensors and connected devices collect data from the production machines and provide invaluable operational insights into equipment performance, energy usage, and production bottlenecks.
Thanks to advances in technology, manufacturers can now optimise operations by reducing machine downtime and monitoring the energy consumption of their equipment using IoT platforms such as machine monitoring software.
AI – the buzzword and topic of 2023. As illustrated in the Google Trends graph below.
Data shows worldwide search volume for 'AI' and 'Artificial intelligence' over the last 12 months. Data is updated by Google automatically.
For the vast majority of manufacturers, particularly those operating in the SME space, AI is perhaps a stretch too far right now, but in time, it will be built into many of the software applications used in daily working life. Microsoft Co-Pilot is a great example of this!
However, the role of AI and its impact on the world as a whole is inevitable. Though not immediate, we very much see that AI will revolutionise many aspects of manufacturing. Think about the potential of applying AI to aspects of manufacturing such as predictive analytics, quality control, and autonomous decision-making.
For the moment, watch this space and Google Trends!
Big Data and Analytics
Data. Without context, data is pretty unhelpful, right?
In fact, most manufacturers are drowning in data and have been for some time now. But Industry 4.0 helps turn this data into actionable insights. Advanced manufacturing analytics software enables better planning, root-cause problem solving and overall supply chain optimisation.
Using technologies such as machine monitoring, manufacturers can go beyond simply collecting data and instead, manufacturers can make informed decisions based on actionable insights in real-time, ultimately reducing waste, gaining capacity and growing profitability.
Robotics and Automation
Automation, including collaborative robots (cobots) and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), is becoming a standard in manufacturing. Robots, although historically seen as a replacement for human labour are now collaborating with humans and workflows within a factory. This works particularly well when robots are assigned to very repetitive tasks, where they can be used to improve accuracy, speed, and safety on the factory floor whilst people can focus on more technical, highly skilled work.
Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)
3D printing is transforming prototyping and customisation. It allows manufacturers to create complex parts with minimal waste and rapid turnaround times. For example, using 3D printing for some aspects of a manufacturing process ensures very efficient material use. A 3D printer only uses the material that passes through the extruder of the printer in order to make the part. As a comparison, methods using injection molds often require additional material to fill the moulds, this is then removed after the product has set, leading to much more material wastage.
Additive manufacturing has gained traction across a number of manufacturing sectors, ranging from aerospace, and automotive to healthcare who are all leveraging this technology to streamline production.
Historically manufacturing Analytics solutions have required an on-premise solution that had to directly integrate with the control systems of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines in order to access the machine's data. This type of solution has largely only been suitable for manufacturers with extensive budgets and internal IT/technical resources to deploy the solution. With limitations including large upfront Capex and ongoing Opex costs, long lead times to get up and running, an inability to work on any and all machines and a return-on-investment period that’s typically years away.
Secure, cloud-based systems, such as machine monitoring software provide manufacturers with a centralised platform for data storage, processing and collaboration. Teams and individuals across the factory floor and top floor can access a single source of truth to see accurate real-time and historical information from anywhere, facilitating productivity with a single site or across a global manufacturing operation.
Challenges and Solutions to technology adoption in manufacturing
While the benefits of Industry 4.0 are immense, adoption can be challenging. Manufacturers must address cybersecurity concerns, invest in workforce training, and navigate regulatory compliance, especially in manufacturing sub-sectors such as Medical, Pharmaceutical and Aerospace.
Fortunately, solutions such as FourJaw’s manufacturing analytics platform enable manufacturers an affordable and accessible way to start their factory digitisation projects and bypass the concerns around security and regulation as the system has been designed from the start to be non-intrusive to a manufacturer's wider network and operating systems.
Manufacturing Technology: Future Trends
The journey doesn't end here. As technology evolves, so does the manufacturing industry. Expect to see AI take a front seat in many systems, starting with applications we’re all used to using on a day-to-day basis and becoming integrated into technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). A quick search on the internet for future trends also brings up numerous articles surrounding blockchain in order to drive value and transparency in the supply chain.
Blockchain is, for now, a conversation for another day!
Industry 4.0 technologies are revolutionising manufacturing by driving productivity, enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving product quality. Embracing these advancements is no longer an option but a necessity for manufacturers looking to stay competitive in an ever-evolving industry. This statement is supported by a line that stood out to us in a recent BBC News article ironically named 'Why is technology not making us more productive...
“The technology is seemingly not the problem, and in some respects, it is not the solution either. High productivity growth will come only to those who learn how to use it best”.
The question is, are you ready to take the leap today, or are you still waiting for tomorrow?
Just remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. Start small, have a clear business case in mind and look for a solution that will provide the biggest value in the shortest payback period.
Ready to get going? Pop your details in the form below and one of our technology advisors will get in touch to discuss your challenges and manufacturing goals.