While the First Industrial Revolution was ushered in by steam, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is being fueled by digital transformation. With the increased adoption of technologies such as cloud computing, augmented reality (AR), and the Internet of Things (IoT), the world of manufacturing is rapidly changing.
As more smart technologies are implemented into manufacturing systems and processes, there is room for enormous potential. Connected machines will interact, visualize the production chain, and make decisions automatically and autonomously.
There are nine main pillars of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also referred to as Industry 4.0. These pillars outline the new technology manufacturers are using to improve all areas of production processes. Whether you work in the manufacturing industry or not, it is imperative to familiarize yourself with these pillars, as they are expected to have a widespread impact across all industries and society as a whole.
1. The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things refers to the networking and connectivity of smart devices. When you think of IoT, devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are usually top of mind. However, also think of wearables, cars, and any machine or device that allows the transmission of data, even our refrigerators.
In the world of manufacturing, this technology is often referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Manufacturers are attaching sensors to machines and other physical assets on the plant floor to collect data which influences decisions real time and leads to increased efficiency and productivity.
2. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) displays digital content in the real word through a device, such as a mobile phone or special eyeglasses. There are a number of different uses for this technology in the manufacturing industry, such as:
- Safety Training: New hires are often unfamiliar with the protocols, equipment, and procedures on the plant floor. In order to prevent safety instances, it’s vital to provide inexperienced personnel with training as soon, and as often, as possible. With the use of AR, they can receive text overlays and other digital information to help them understand what is happening on the floor without requiring additional resources or production stops.
- Streamlined Logistics: In fulfillment centers and warehouses, manual checks are required for most orders and shipments. With AR, this process becomes automated reducing errors, saving time, money and resources.
- Maintenance: Maintenance crews save time and eliminate guesswork by using AR devices to provide information about equipment, such as, preventative maintenance schedules, potential issues, and the service history of the machine.
Simulations leverage real-time data to reflect the physical world of product development and production processes in a virtual environment. These models can be used to run more efficient tests so settings and processes are optimized before production even starts, reducing downtime and improving quality.
4. Additive Manufacturing
While manufacturers are looking to expand the use of additive manufacturing in their processes, technologies like 3D printing are already playing an important role in three key areas:
- Design: Design teams can experiment with creating more complex geometric shapes and structures due to the flexibility of 3D printing technology.
- Prototyping: 3D printing is often used for prototyping, accelerating design cycles and reducing costs. Companies are free to fail fast in a controlled environment and explore multiple models before deciding on final designs.
- Low-Volume Production: When only a small amount of a product is needed, 3D printing is the fastest and most economical production method.
5. System Integration
Industry 4.0 is all about improving connectivity – and not just between machines. Many manufacturing information systems are currently not fully integrated. With improved system integration, companies can become more interconnected both externally and internally. This will result in an agile manufacturing environment allowing real time production corrections and quick pivots.
6. Cloud Computing
As the use of technology and data sharing at manufacturing companies grows, cloud computing provides scaleable storage and increased computing power. The cloud also improves data accessibility and integrity, helping to eliminate data silos.
7. Autonomous Systems
While the manufacturing industry has made great strides when it comes to automation over the last few years, there is still a lot of untapped opportunity. Collaborative robots are designed to fill the gaps between traditional robots and human workers and open up new areas for automation. These robots are designed to work in ways similar to humans, with the added ability to monitor and transmit data.
As connectivity increases, the risk of a potential cyberattack grows alongside it. Any security breach could damage multiple areas of the business, from supply chain to operations. It’s absolutely critical that companies prepare and protect their information systems and production lines from cyberthreats.
9. Big Data Analytics
The common theme among all of these pillars and new technologies is data collection and analysis. There are massive amounts of untapped data in the manufacturing industry, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface.
Industry 4.0 experts have encouraged manufacturing companies to invest not only in the technical infrastructure but also talent. Every company is now a digital company and in order to not only survive but thrive, the need for people with advanced data analysis skills is critical. Analysis needs to scale across all parts of the business from HR, sales, marketing to the manufacturing floor. Data is disruptive, no one can accurately forecast where the next “big idea” will emerge and how it will change our lives. What will push us into the 5th Industrial Revolution?
It’s important for manufacturers to have tools, such as dashboards, to help them clean, organize, and visualize the massive amount of data available. In the end, this will free up time to analyze data, communicate insights, and optimize inefficient processes.
Interested in learning more about the use of dashboards in manufacturing? Click here to download our guide to How to Build and Use Dashboards in Manufacturing.