With the rapid advancement of technology, especially for manufacturing, experts are suggesting that the world is undergoing the fourth industrial revolution or industry 4.0. The first one happened in the late 1700s when companies started to use intuitive machines to enhance their productivity and reduce manual labor. Examples of these instruments were cotton spinners for textiles and steam engines for agriculture and transportation.
The second one involved the expansion of electricity and petroleum industries, and the third was all about digital solutions like computers and robots. These shifts happened decades apart, so what is industry 4.0 and why is it happening just several years after the latest revolution?
A Smart Factory
Industry 4.0 tech focuses on making manufacturing equipment like computers and robots more intelligent and interconnected than ever through artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and a lot of data. Here’s what they mean and how they turn your plant into a smart factory.
- Artificial Intelligence – Also known as AI, artificial intelligence is the use of machines like computers to simulate human processes like reasoning, learning, moving objects, and problem-solving. You may be familiar with an AI already if you use your smartphone’s voice assistant or smart speakers like the Amazon Echo. In manufacturing, AI is often used to control collaborative robots or “cobots,” which are designed to help human workers take on repetitive tasks such as inspecting, picking, and placing items.
- The Internet of Things – The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network where various devices, like smartphones, machines, computers, and even light bulbs, can send data and commands to each other. Think of a smart home where you can control your appliances and view their energy usage using only your phone or tablet. For your production floor, you can purchase equipment with special sensors that track the machine’s performance and overall health in real time.
- Cloud Computing and Storage –With the amount of data you’ll be collecting from your operation every day, a couple of hard drives won’t be enough. Creating a server room that’s managed by IT experts costs too much for some owners. Cloud service providers help you store your files and data on their secure servers.
Not only will it eliminate the need for storage hardware, but it also lets you access your documents from anywhere using a computer or a smartphone. You may harvest insights from this data and turn them into reports using a cloud-based business intelligence solution.
AI, IoT, and cloud services all provide features that make it easier for you and your workers to create quality products. In fact, about 29% of businesses in the United States use AI regularly in their business processes. And about 77% of corporations in the country are using at least one cloud computing application. So, what are the benefits of having a smart factory?
- Better Maintenance–Because your machines will be equipped with tools that measure their performance, you’ll be able to see which units may have technical difficulties. It allows you to send them in immediately for repairs, or replace them temporarily before they cause bottlenecks in your operations.
- Better Quality of Goods –Smart factory technology, like AI-powered collaborative robots, help take human error out of repetitive tasks. With their precise arms and solid programming, these bots can take on tasks like packing, soldering, and inspecting every day without making mistakes. They don’t get distracted, and they don’t need to take breaks to function well. In turn, you’ll create products with better and more consistent quality.
- Better for the Budget – Although you may have to shell out cash to set up your smart factory, you’ll save more in the long run. Return, refund, and servicing requests all negatively impact your bottom-line. Since you’ll be delivering products at a much more consistent quality, you’ll likely receive fewer complaints from customers. With smart factory automation software, you can also create a real-time inventory tracker, which helps you forecast the number of materials you’ll need for the next cycle. It eliminates the need to overstock materials. You only buy what you need.
- Better for Workers–Smart factory devices like collaborative robots take care of the more tedious and sometimes risky work for your employees. It may minimize the number of injuries related to repetitive work on the production floor, like back pain, sprains, tendonitis, and arthritis. And because they’ll be using automated forms and sheets, tasks like keeping inventory and quality monitoring is a breeze.
The extra time your workers will have because of automation can be used for up skilling, as well. This way, they’ll be doing tasks that require creativity – a trait that no robot can ever replicate.
- Better for the Environment –Your smart technology may decrease the waste your factory creates, too. Because you’ll make fewer mistakes with an automated assembly line, you’ll also throw out fewer rejects. And with a digital system, you can minimize – or eliminate – your company’s dependency on paper.
The Bottom Line
Smart technology enables you to create informed and intelligent decisions for your manufacturing business. With a digitalized data dashboard of all your factory equipments, you can take care of mechanical problems before they even arise. A cloud-based business intelligence platform can help you gather gigabytes of data from a month or year’s work and analyze them to find out which parts of your chain maybe causing slowdowns. You can then turn that data into a report to present in strategy meetings.
When you upgrade your facilities, you also improve your workers. Automation frees them up from menial tasks and gives them the chance to take on more challenging and rewarding work.
Industry 4.0 in manufacturing is not just about automation. It’s about taking the abundance of technology and analyze the data available to us to improve our products drastically, and to enrich the well-being of our workers on the assembly line. And with technologies like cobots, cloud services, and smart devices like tablets becoming cheaper to buy and easier to use, the question is not if, but when you’ll join the fourth industrial revolution.