What is the Buzz about?
Right from the beginning of the modern age, industries have continued to transform with the development of supporting technology and means of production. The use of pressurized steam and water to power machinery in the industry marked the first industrial revolution. Then came the age of electricity and with it, came the electric motor which could drive the industrial equipment more efficiently and without the use of less safe and maintenance-intensive equipment such as Boilers, Condensers and mechanical linkage mechanisms. This led to the development of assembly lines, and more effective means of mass production which eventually led to the second industrial revolution. The third came when the use of robots, sensors etc. led to the automation of the most effort-intensive and error-prone manual operations.
Each of these revolutions led to better efficiencies across various operations in manufacturing plants and reduced the wastage of raw materials and energy. In this context, the fourth industrial revolution promises to enhance the benefits provided by automation during the third by using cutting-edge upcoming technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Cyber-Physical Systems in industries.
The Promises and Opportunities
Industry 4.0 promises an array of advantages across all parts of the value chain during the manufacturing process such as:
- Automated Data Analytics: A lot of data is collected by network-connected machines in the industry, which can then be analysed to gather key insights that help in optimizing the processes involved. A big benefit can be predictive maintenance of plant equipment using analysis of past failure data to understand patterns that occur before a failure.
- Mass Customization and Value-added Services: Internet of things can enable customization on a mass scale as the products can be manufactured using smart machines which can communicate with each other and to the internet, from where they can gather orders directly and alter the manufacturing process accordingly. Similarly, value-added services to services based on individual needs can be provided to customers and businesses.
- Human-Machine Interaction: Cyber-physical systems such as Augmented-reality and Virtual-reality can help in improving various aspects of a manufacturing plant such as safety by opening new avenues for better operability, convenience and user experience. A good example might be the use of AR-glasses for training operators in a safe environment.
- Automation and Adaptation: Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence can help in taking automation to a whole new level by making it adaptive and intelligent. For instance, in a manufacturing setup, the data from assembly lines can be used to automatically monitor bottlenecks that inevitably occur, and manage the output rates of various machines to maintain the required throughput.
All in all, Industry 4.0 promises to be a game-changer for the industry with momentous transformations in store for the entire supply chain across a plethora of industries. If challenges such as the setting of common industry standards and upskilling of the current workforce are achieved, it can pave the road towards enhanced customer satisfaction, sustainable methods of production and safer environment inside factories.