We are now at the beginning of the 4th industrial revolution, also called digital manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0. As with any revolution, there will be political, economic, organizational, and social challenges to overcome. The latest revolution brings automation for data exchange - advanced human-machine interfaces with communication in real-time. Combine this speed with big data and digital processing platforms for greater operator transparency. The operator will identify and optimize the overall task and allow the system components autonomy by monitoring itself. This ability gives tremendous flexibility where machines predict failure modes and correct or plan maintenance before it even happens. With downtime reduced and overall efficiency going up, and the continued reduction of the labor force, companies will see significant cost savings. However, the workforce will be wary and concerned with the loss of jobs. In every automation project in the history of the industrial revolution, some jobs will become obsolete; however, new jobs created from innovation would require different skillsets, and people would require retraining.
What would this look like? There are enormous opportunities for all areas but let's look at what tomorrow's factory might look like.
Machine Learning: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) would work on different routes on different days and adapt themselves to change their path depending on the demand in warehousing and intralogistics. They have an array of sensors to allow them to navigate around each other and the human workforce. Also, should they need maintenance, the AMR's will self-diagnose and visit the workshop for preventative or critical upkeep.
Smart factory: Industry 4.0 encompasses the idea of the "smart factory", which adopts Cyber-Physical Systems. CPS is where a computer-based algorithm controls a mechanism and is linked with the Internet of Things, where equipment embedded with sensor technology has the sole purpose of exchanging data over the internet. Examples of CPS are self-driving cars or drones that are virtually aware of their surroundings. Instead of warehouses and factories unloading deliveries with a flow chain carried out by people, a lorry would supply the precise quantity of raw material, determined by automated data collection. Products are developed and tested digitally. The smart factory will operate from delivery to end-product with minimal supervision.
Being at the forefront of industry transformation is critical. Partnering with companies that design and manufacture products to keep driving innovation is essential.