As momentum around the Connected Factory continues to build, manufacturers everywhere are intently focused on reaching Industry 4.0 in their own factory environments. But to reach Industry 4.0 implies that it is a destination—and that, once reached, one’s quest for Industry 4.0 is somehow complete. The lion’s share of the industry speaks about Industry 4.0 this way. However, to reap the full benefits of the Connected Factory, it is critical that today’s manufacturers approach Industry 4.0 as a journey.
Valuable tools, next-gen optimization systems, sensor devices, or manufacturing applications on their own will not instantaneously allow manufacturers to achieve Industry 4.0 status. Instead, Industry 4.0 must be embraced as a long-term, strategic mindset of digital transformation that dynamically alters a manufacturer’s entire operational perspective.
Yet, Industry 4.0, the capabilities of which empower unparalleled advancements in smart, connected manufacturing, is an ongoing journey that requires enterprise-wide effort and enduring support, from CEOs and COOs down to everyday IT/OT practitioners on the factory floor.
Industry 4.0 In Practice
Industry 4.0 revolutionizes the manufacturing process by bridging the gap between high-level Information Technology (IT) and floor-level Operational Technology (OT), leveraging intelligent data insights to power factory-wide innovative adaptability.
With digitized, cyber-physical systems for automated data collection and autonomous intelligent decision making, Industry 4.0 enables mass customization at high volume production rates with minimal levels of human intervention. Industry 4.0 is automatically controlling materials flow to eliminate downtime and operate at the lowest level of inventory possible. The ultimate goal is to transform manufacturing into an environment that is adaptive and customer-centric capable of generating new business models and revenue sources.
Factories with Industry 4.0 capabilities can shift their operations on a dime, flexibly adapting to meet changing customer demands, enhance productivity, reduce waste, and accelerate production. This is achieved primarily through a decentralized production system, in which production plants can maintain closer contact with customers and supply chain partners and achieve an agile, flexible model for mass customization. Successful decentralization requires advanced data-sharing between locations which not only consolidates and provides intelligent insights into day-to-day operations across sites, but also enhances communications between people, machines, and customers. Having a factory that can support a ‘single piece flow’ but then automatically adapts to a new product configuration or an entirely new product as each unit comes down the line is game-changing. Additionally, the “Industry 4.0” factory should be able to automatically adapt to line conditions, down conditions, material supply, and other variables without customization. When companies have reached a stage that supports this level of innovative adaptability, this is when they become “disruptive," and for those companies that have not reached the same levels of maturity, they are at a substantial competitive disadvantage.
Manufacturers often collect descriptive data (“What happened?”) and diagnostic data (“Why did it happen?”) about their machines and devices, but with Industry 4.0’s end-to-end digitization, they can also gain predictive (“What will happen?”) and prescriptive (“What action should I take?”) insights into the status of their operations. With multi-directional data synthesized from ever-changing sources, analytics can be communicated in real-time via operational dashboards. These data insights drive progress, quality, compliance, and innovation enterprise-wide, while also radically simplifying decision-making processes on a daily basis. Industry 4.0, which connects Big Data and Machine Learning analytics, delivers this intelligent data round-the-clock for constant insight into current and future operational performance.
A connected factory ecosystem is driven primarily by IT/OT convergence, which empowers operational excellence, maximizes uptime, and increases throughput by allowing manufacturers to have a unified view of their enterprises’ strategies and operations. With enhanced visibility and real-time data sharing, a connected Industry 4.0 ecosystem—which often takes the form of high-level ERP integrating with the production operations via MES and its’ IIoT framework—creates a two-way system of information-sharing that ensures operations adhere to factory requirements and accurate operational information is used to plan future projects. It can also power cyber-physical systems like robots and autonomous manufacturing lines, which combine functional machinery with advanced digital intelligence to make their own operational decisions based on situational and environmental factors.
The principle of configurability permeates every part of a factory that embraces Industry 4.0. Unlike customization, which can lock a manufacturer into a single, highly-unique code branch, a configurable Industry 4.0 framework delivers the flexibility and innovation that smart factories need to expand and adapt as a business evolves. From the factory floor, to production terminals, to the manufacturing process, best-in-class Industry 4.0 systems and capabilities deliver a ‘drag-and-drop’ design that doesn’t rely on heavy coding to adjust.
Finally, another hallmark of Industry 4.0 is the ability to communicate and display complex processes in a simplified format. People want things that are simple and easy to use, but they also want advanced and powerful capabilities. Many think that if it something is simple then it is very basic or limited in capabilities while if something is very advanced many believe it is complicated and hard to use or understand. But it is possible that simple and easy to use can co-exist with advanced, and powerful capabilities.
Through intuitive interfaces, contextual awareness, interactive work instructions, voice and gesture capabilities, and dynamic alerts—all powered by enhanced data-sharing—factories can train employees more easily while also improving employee satisfaction and overall experience. With the concept of complex simplicity, Industry 4.0 introduces tools that improve productivity, keep factory workers safe, and ensure that operations remain proactive as opposed to reactive.
Industry 4.0: Connected, Innovative & Highly Flexible
Each of the characteristics above are critical pieces of digital transformation and can be combined to describe the essence of an Industry 4.0 approach—an approach that encourages a connected factory ecosystem, advanced data-sharing, smart operational decisions, and enhanced efficiency.
The bottom line for manufacturers? The more Industry 4.0 capabilities factories can achieve, the more they will be able to adapt, innovate, and create new business models for additional revenue sources.
If you're interested to find out more, download the full whitepaper, “Your Industry 4.0 Journey - A Practical Guide to Attaining Industry 4.0 Benefits in Your Manufacturing Operation.”
You can also instantly view the infographic, The Industry 4.0 Journey - Strategic Digital Transformation, One Step at a Time with no registration required.
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