Industry 4.0 – What is it and why it matters

Joe Svetlik

Friday 15 May 2015

Industry 4.0 means higher productivity, lower costs and greater efficiency. It’s like the Internet of Things on an industrial scale. Can you afford to miss out?

First, there was steam power. Then electrification. In the 1970s, industry became automated. Now a fourth technological wave is transforming industry with the potential to change manufacturing forever.

Bringing together the breakthroughs

Industry 4.0 involves nine key technologies. These are: autonomous robots, augmented reality, the cloud, big data and analytics, cybersecurity, the industrial Internet of Things, horizontal and vertical system integration, simulation and additive manufacturing. These are all already implemented in one way or another. Industry 4.0 is about bringing them together.

When they work as part of a cohesive system, instead of being isolated, they have the power to transform production and change the nature of the relationships between suppliers, producers and customers, as well as between humans and machines. Thanks to the industrial Internet of Things, for example, machines can talk to each other while working alongside and learning from humans, thus making them much more efficient than their predecessors.

Leading the charge

When it comes to Industry 4.0, Germany is leading the way. At the Siemens plant in Amberg, machines and computers handle 75 per cent of the production process. They can also preview the manufacturing process for a new product without actually implementing it, saving on the huge costs incurred when wheedling out problems at the testing phase. This is known as product lifecycle management (PLM).

Thanks to the amount of data that’s shared through Industry 4.0 at each stage of the manufacturing process, engineers can invent a design and send it to the shop floor to simulate production. Using the software, they can then spot if there’s going to be a potential spanner in the works.

They can also analyse the stats from each machine, optimising fan speeds, humidity and other variables to reduce the risk of malfunction.

Increased efficiency

All this translates into higher efficiency and reduced costs. This is essential for keeping up with the competition, and for simply surviving in markets where consumer demand is increasingly complex thanks to the rise of bespoke products tailored to individuals’ needs and wants.

As an indicator of just how effective Industry 4.0 can be, in recent years, Siemens’ Amberg plant has kept roughly the same number of staff while increasing productivity sixfold.

According to Accenture’s Smart Service Welt report, it’s estimated that Industry 4.0 can deliver annual manufacturing efficiency gains of between six and eight per cent. Ignore it at your peril.

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