The developing technological revolution is rooted in tools labelled “Industry 4.0”
The term began to appear in the early 2000s, after Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, released a book laying down his thoughts on the latest industrial revolution.
The term “Industry 4.0” is interchangeable with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR. It’s basically a term that encapsulates the rising tide of high technology – everything from artificial intelligence (AI), big data and robotics to the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing and genetic engineering – to name a few.
Digital transformation – of both internal processes and value chain relationships – is something most modern businesses are working with, towards or considering. And a major part of that transformation will include IoT technology.
The Internet of Things describes connectivity between devices and systems. We are already seeing an increase in the number of physical objects that are connected to sensors, software, and other technologies which link and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communication networks.
It doesn’t take a huge leap to realise that allowing connectivity between devices in an industrial setting brings improvements in process and quality.
But let’s take a moment to examine how these improvements might play out:
Systems combining Industrial IoT and AI can run simulations and analyse current and future scenarios to provide real-time recommendations for the most sustainable, optimal manufacturing process, ensuring wasteful outcomes are minimised.
Take a factory floor chilled water system, designed to keep machinery operating at the right temperature, for example. Such a system can now be centrally controlled by remote operators, who can also optimise power consumption.
Predictive or preventive maintenance is planned maintenance, which helps maximise the life and uptime of equipment.
Real-time data from arrays of IoT-enabled sensors ensures early detection of faults and failures. Such data might be accessed by in-house engineers via their mobile phones, for example, or sent directly to the manufacturer.
By then feeding this data into AI and Data analysis systems, manufacturers can predict potential equipment or machine failure – and proactively schedule maintenance, reducing downtime and maintaining profitability.
QC – via high-quality inspections at every production stage is key to business success. Our current reliance on manual quality control has high rates of scrap and defect rejects due to several factors mainly human error. Using IoT, detection of defects is much more efficient, effective, quicker and ultimately saves the business money.
Analysis of production lines can reap rapid cost savings and create efficiencies which can be identified much faster thanks to real-time data gathering and analysis enabled via IoT devices. Weaknesses and opportunities for improvement in production processes can now be rapidly identified and rectified or exploited.
Computer vision-based systems allow manufacturers to rapidly spot errors and real-time defects in their products or processes, even remotely.
This is also useful in places too extreme for humans, like heat furnaces.
Meanwhile, traditional sensors like an end-of-line sensor can be equipped with IoT capabilities to aid and automate the process of tracking defects.
Health and Safety
The tech involved in 4IR can assist in staff health and safety, using equipment like sensors, cameras and alerts. Real-time monitoring of the factory floor, for example, can mean the difference between life and death, and costly accidents are avoided.
Wearable technology and moveable smart equipment are re-shaping the industrial safety narrative.
Sensor data gleaned from items like IoT-enabled hard hats, enables HSE staff to watch out for signs of dehydration or fatigue, for example. These “smart hats” can also gather data on working conditions – like equipment temperatures, toxicity and dust levels – helping identify potential risks to workers earlier than using manual methods.
This bright new future – which combines the physical, digital and biological worlds – is now impacting all disciplines, economies and industries.
How we adopt and adapt to the promises and concerns of the fourth industrial revolution is perhaps best described by the WEF’s Professor Schwab, who
calls for leaders and citizens to: “…shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”