Industry 4.0 is the new buzz word in the field of automation, and companies looking to be on the cutting edge may want to know how they can be part of this new movement. You may be wondering if Industry 4.0 is all it’s marketed to be? Or is just a gimmick? As you’ll see, Industry 4.0 is the real deal, and here’s what you need to know about it.
The Industrial Revolutions
The first industrial revolution, often just called The Industrial Revolution, took place in the mid to late 18th century. During this time, machinery began replacing hand production and speeding up manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States. In the 1900s, rapid development led to new, dynamic machinery that was capable of performing multiple tasks and greatly improving on the first generation designs from the previous century. We sometimes refer to this period as The Technological Revolution. Not to be outdone, the Digital Revolution came about, adding computers into the production process. In this Third Industrial Revolution, we saw the rise of digital technology as the replacement for analog technology.
Now we’re in the midst of Industry 4.0, the 4th Industrial Revolution. We’re seeing interconnected machinery, computers forming advanced networks, and the internet blending these processes to decrease the need for human intervention. In this new era of industry, we’re seeing a turn toward smart manufacturing, smart factories, lights-out factories, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Smart factory and smart manufacturing
Smart factories and smart manufacturing involve moving away from traditional linear automation practices. These integrated units not only connect every machine in one building, but they are also capable of connecting all of the machines in the entire supply chain, even ones in different locations. Smart manufacturing means that every step from the material handling to the delivery is integrated. This provides major advantages over independently operated, isolated units that rely on human scheduling.
Factories that don’t require humans, don’t require lights. These so-called dark factories, or lights-out factories, aren’t necessarily dark. Instead, the name is meant to suggest that they can run without a human being present and therefore could theoretically operate in total darkness. Lights-out factories cut down on wasted electricity and provide a safer more efficient production site. Human operators can control and monitor the facilities remotely and processes can run uninterrupted over 24-hour periods.
The Internet of Things
Gone are the days where an employee walks around the factory floor with a clipboard checking the readings on dials and comparing them to his notes. Sensors, displays, and instruments are all interconnected via computers and cloud-based processing. Machines now possess more than just emergency shutoff switches that provide a fail-safe in worst-case scenarios. Our machines can communicate with a vast network that can identify, isolate and fix a problem without interrupting workflow. Operators can adjust settings remotely, even from their mobile phones. And a change made to one machine in the network can be assessed by all other machines working in concert, all of which can alter their conditions to keep the production flow running smoothly.
Written by: B.A. Durham