Industry 4.0 is All About Progressive IT

Industry 4.0 is All About Progressive IT

The next phase of manufacturing will be all about information technology. Which of these trends will have the most profound impact on your work?

Industry 4.0 is the brainchild of the German government and describes the next phase in manufacturing, known as the post information revolution. I came across a great primer from Boston Consulting Group that neatly describes the nine pillars of technological advancement that underpin Industry 4.0, all of which IT professionals must understand in order to effectively compete in the next 10-20 years.

Big Data and Analytics

In manufacturing, analytics optimizes production quality, saves energy, and improves equipment service. According to BSG, in an Industry 4.0 context, the collection and comprehensive evaluation of data from many different sources—production equipment and systems as well as enterprise- and customer-management systems—will become standard to support real-time decision making.

Autonomous Robots

Robots in manufacturing are evolving for even greater utility, becoming more autonomous, flexible, and cooperative. Eventually, says BSG, they will interact with one another and work safely side by side with humans. These robots will cost less and have a greater range of capabilities than those used in manufacturing today.

Simulation

3D simulations of products, materials, and production processes are already used in the engineering phase of manufacturing, but in the future, simulations will be used in plant operations as well. These simulations will leverage real-time data to mirror the physical world in a virtual model. Operators will be able to test and optimize machine settings in the virtual world before the physical changeover, driving down machine setup times and increasing quality.

Horizontal and Vertical System Integration

Most of today’s IT systems are not fully integrated, and nor are departments such as engineering, production, and service. But with Industry 4.0, companies, departments, functions, and capabilities will become more cohesive as cross-company, universal data-integration networks evolve and enable automated value chains.

The Industrial Internet of Things

In its report, BCG mentions that today, only some of a manufacturer’s sensors and machines are networked and make use of embedded computing. They are typically organized in a vertical automation pyramid in which sensors and field devices with limited intelligence and automation controllers feed into an overarching manufacturing-process control system. In the Industrial Internet of Things, however, more devices will be connected, allowing them to communicate and interact with one another and centralized controllers.

Cybersecurity

Along with the connectivity and communications protocols that come with Industry 4.0, says BCG, the need to protect critical industrial systems and manufacturing lines from cybersecurity threats will increase dramatically. As a result, secure, reliable communications and sophisticated identity and access management of machines and users will be essential.

The Cloud

BCG reports that Industry 4.0 will require increased data sharing across sites and company boundaries. At the same time, the performance of cloud technologies will improve, achieving reaction times of just several milliseconds. As a result of this productivity boost, machine data and functionality will increasingly be deployed to the cloud.

Additive Manufacturing

Companies have just begun to adopt additive manufacturing, such as 3-D printing, which they are using to prototype and produce individual components. With Industry 4.0, claims BCG, these additive-manufacturing methods will produce small batches of customized products that offer construction advantages like complex, lightweight design.

Augmented Reality

These systems are currently in their infancy, but in the future, companies will make much broader use of augmented reality to improve decision making and work procedures. In the virtual world, operators will learn to interact with machines by clicking on a cyber-representation. They will also be able to change parameters and retrieve operational data and maintenance instructions.

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