IT Innovations Enabling the Industry 4.0 In Manufacturing Sector

IT Innovations Enabling the Industry 4.0 In Manufacturing Sector

IT based technologies are changing the ways the world used to see the manufacturing processes. The advanced technologies are making the connectivity among machinery possible which in turn makes the factories smart enhancing their production capacity and also providing them with cost-effective and time saving alternatives. 

We have already discussed about the different technologies that are enabling industry 4.0 in manufacturing industries. Now is the time to have a look at the real life applications of these technologies and how these technologies have been proven successful so far.  

Industrial Internet of Things

As we have studied in previous articles that IoT is a network of digitally interconnected devices and equipment’s that allows the communication and exchange of data within the devices. It comprises of various sensing devices, RFID tags, and electronics attached with manufacturing equipment. 

For example, IIoT can be used is to prevent the overstocking or under stocking of inventory.

Let’s have a look at the real-life application of IoT enabling industry 4.0.

A company BJC Healthcare operates 15 hospitals located in Missouri and Illinois as a service provider company. 

The company is using RFID tags to track and manage their medical supplies. Before application of RFID tags, the company needed a lot of labor to manage the inventory. 

This was a challenging task as the company had a lot of supplies to store and manage physically. It also caused a considerable loss of stock as it is difficult to keep a strict check on inventory, hence the expiry dates of stock could not be noted. 

But then the company applied RFID technology in 2015. 

Now, the company has been able to decrease the onsite stock at different facilities by 23%. It is predicted that company will save $5 million every year due to the RFID tagging technology. 

Big Data and Analytics

Using advanced computer technologies on major data sets to uncover important patterns, trends and correlations for companies in decision making process is termed as big data or big data analytics. 

The main use of big data in industry is as a translator. But it is not an ordinary translator; it translates what no one else can do. The information that is produced by IoT and AI systems needs to be translated into an actionable format and here the big data comes in. 

Bosch is a Chinese automotive company currently using a combination of IIoT and Big Data to connect the machinery and monitor the whole production process. 

The system that company uses is comprised of sensors attached with the factory’s machinery that collect data about a certain machine’s performance and any issues related to the working of the machinery. 

This collected data is then translated by Big data analytics to tell the workers if there is any breakdown in any machinery identified at some place. 

This helps in predicting the machine’s failure allowing the workers to take steps to resolve the future issue before it happens. 

Reports show that due to the use of big data systems, the company is enjoying 10% increase in output along with improved delivery management. 

Cloud computing

Cloud computing allows businesses to access up to date data and applications provided by the emerging technologies. And the good thing is, you don’t need to build a huge physical infrastructure to acquire this all. Cloud based computing can be easily installed and changed depending on the needs of industry.

Volkswagen is a company that developed a cloud network known as “Volkswagen Automotive Cloud” in collaboration with Microsoft. The technology offers features like smart home connectivity, digital assistance, predictive maintenance, media streaming and uptdates. 

With the help of this cloud network, the company plans to add around 5 million brand offerings annually to its IoT.

Advanced Robotics

Industries have been using robotics in one way or other for decades but the fourth industrial revolution has given a rise to this technology.  

Today, we have robots that can perform difficult and complex tasks autonomously. These robots are aided by advanced software and sensors which make them able to recognize, analyze, and act upon the data that they gather from the ecosystem. They are also capable to learn autonomously from humans.

Fetch Robotics is a Californian based company that has a developed system of robots used for tracking, locating, and moving inventory in warehouse. 

In Netherlands, a DHL service Provider Company is using the AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) for pick and drop operations within the warehouse. These AMRs autonomously move with the workers and also learn from their activities and hence remember their routes of work. The company says that use of these AMRs has reduced the order cycle time by 50%. 

Augmented reality

Industry 4.0 is encouraging the use of AR technologies in the manufacturing industry. This technology can help companies from assembly processes to maintaining manufacturing machinery. 

AR efficiently fills the gap between the physical and digital labor by offering virtual images and data on to a physical object. The technology mostly comprises of smartphones, tablets and smart glasses. 

A company named “General Electric” has applied an AR system in their facility to offer a glimpse at how AR technology can work to increase the efficiency of manufacturing unit and labor. The company is using the AR technology on experimental bases in their jet engine manufacturing cell. Before introducing the AR technology, the workers had to stop now-and-then to check the working manuals in order to assure that the work goes in the right direction. With the use of smart AR based glasses, they can now have visual instructions while working. These smart glasses are even connected with the support team and the worker can immediately contact experts in case of any complex issue. 

Company says that it is enjoying 11% increased productivity of workers after introducing the smart AR glasses.   

How Current IT is enabling Industry 4.0

How IT is enabling Industry 4.0 

Manufacturing is continuously headed towards the advancements of the fourth industrial revolution aided by IT based technologies. The manufacturing units are being digitalized by using sensors, software, AI, big data and cloud computing connectivity. Hence we are having more efficient factories revolutionizing the manufacturing industry – thanks to IT!

This article is meant to discuss the means by which IT has and is enabling industry 4.0 models in manufacturing industry. 

The industry 4.0 applications are changing the ways in which the products were planned, designed, manufactured and repaired before the introduction of IT in the field. Let’s have a look at each application of IT that is enabling industry 4.0 in manufacturing industry.

Changing the Resource and Process Management 

Smart Energy Systems

IT techniques help factories build an IP backbone that connects sensors, actuators, controllers and machinery together which helps in monitoring the use of energy by different parts of the manufacturing unit. This helps in using the energy in more efficient and cost-effective manner by supplying energy where needed and turn it off where it is not needed. 

The Smart Factory 

The use of technologies like 3G, LoRa WAN, IoT, cloud computing, RFID tags and sensors makes the connectivity between equipment like containers, pallets and roll cages possible and makes in convenient to track and control them during the manufacturing, storage and delivery stages. This connectivity can also be used to collect information on temperature, location, and inventory and hence makes the manufacturing unit a smart factory. 

Real time Optimization of yield 

 The inter-connectivity of manufacturing unit’s equipment provides information about the performance of certain equipment at a certain time. By taking a bit more help from machine learning, this information gathered from the sensors can be converted into a real-time analysis of the yield in manufacturing unit. This helps in optimizing the yield by saving much of time and budget that could be spent on an unknown issue in a certain part of machinery if it was not industry 4.0 optimized.

Changing the Asset Management

Route-Flexible Manufacturing Systems

The use of IoT-enabled technologies is making companies more reactive. It helps the manufacturers to tackle the issues like, the mechanical break downs in equipment, to continue the production without any break. This is achieved by manufacturing a certain product through different routes or by continuing process on more than one machine. This increases the uptime and maximizes the asset utilization and hence makes the factory more flexible.

Monitoring and Control

In a manufacturing unit, there are hundreds and thousands of equipment and machinery working all together to manufacture an end product. To make this all work properly, the visibility of all the processes is necessary. 

IoT and AI technologies have made it possible. The manufacturers can have an eye on all the operations by connecting their tablet, mobile or laptop with the interconnected network of all factory’s equipment. IoT helps having a real-time visibility of all the operations taking place at a certain part of the factory. It also helps engineers to identify and cure any breakdown in the machinery by smart sensing technology. 

AR (Augmented Reality) Technology 

This is the interesting part. Exploring the instruction manuals to find solution of a certain problem is the story of past. Today, workers just need an AR headset containing all the data needed for a certain task like graphs, diagrams, lines, and instructions to keep guiding the worker as he proceeds with the task. This makes all the work autonomous and continuous. The main concept behind this advanced thrill in the manufacturing industry is image recognition technology, wireless connectivity, computing power and IoT. 

Socio-Technical collaboration

Industry 4.0 models has introduced the lightweight, easy and safe to lift and operate robots to provide the new levels of flexibility to the manufacturing industry. These robots are fitted with positioning sensors and they can perform the most repeated tasks on their own giving the labor a room to do other important and complex tasks. 

3D Printing

Any part or component of a certain machine can be damaged at any time during the manufacturing process. This can lead to a breakdown until the part is repaired or replaced. 3D printers have solved this problem. Any part of the machinery that is needed to be replaced can now be made by 3D printers within the factory. The IoT and sensor system can convey the shape and structure of the damaged part to the wi0fi connected 3d printer. Thus the printer will make the part autonomously and then the work can be started again. 

3D printers are also being used in the research and experimentation stages of production. Before that, specific softwares were used to show illustration of an object in the computer screen but now, 3D printers have made it possible to hold that illustration in the hands to understand and conclude a certain problem easily and time effectively. 

This is just a fraction of data that is available on the benefits of IT to industry and how IT has enabled industry 4.0. There is a lot more yet we have discussed the important points. The industry is headed towards the 5threvolution and IT is acting as the back bone. Let’s see, what IT has to bring for us yet!

Challenges in Enabling Industry 4.0

The challenges towards enabling industry 4.0 and their possible solutions

IT is undoubtedly the backbone of industrial revolution. It is IT that will decide the future industrial revolutions starting from industry 4.0 and onwards. Some experts say that the IT systems have already enabled the industry 4.0 completely and now we are headed towards the next industrial revolution. Yet the others say that there is still room for improvements in existing model which means the industry 4.0 cannot be marked complete until it meets the security standards. 

Such deficiencies and improvements are worth discussing and that’s why we are here to discuss all these challenges that are a hurdle in the way of completing the vision industry 4.0 and the possible solutions to address these challenges. 

It is said,

“Any problem comes, but not without a solution”

Similar is the case with this advanced IT based system. 

So, without wasting time, let’s have a look at what can be done to tackle the challenges we already discussed in the previous article. 

Challenge # 1

Data sharing in a competitive environment

Integration of IT systems to enable industry 4.0 allows the data sharing in a highly competitive environment which makes online business environment transparent. This transparent business ecosystem means an environment that is vulnerable to cyber-attacks, spying, stealing data and illegal access to the important business files. 

Possible solution

Organizations need to recreate the existing business models and devise new business strategies to address this challenge. 

The possible solution to this transparent environment until this day is that the small organizations must consider the markets with low competition where they can allocate their maximum resources instead of placing their sources and data in an intense market competition where their data will be more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and the threat of being out of competition due to the presence of big companies in the intense market.  

Challenge # 2

Incomplete implementation of industry 4.0 is dangerous

Some small companies are trying to transition to industry 4.0 models on their existing machinery or equipment which results in complicated processes and bigger costs that small industries cannot handle easily. 

Possible Solution:

Total transition of industry 4.0 is necessary. The incomplete transition prevents companies from being successful in market. Thus, small companies must consider full transition if not possible today, they may wait and implement it later.

Challenge # 3

Low degree skills will be out of the job

Industry 4.0 model is based on the idea that the low degree skills are to be performed by machines and robots. Which means, the employees with low degree of skills would be ignored unless they acquire advanced skills that the machines or AI systems cannot perform. 

Possible Solution:

Finding the employees with advanced skills to implement industry 4.0 is a big challenge. To address this challenge, the companies must consider training their existing labor to acquire the needed advanced skills. 

This is the most budget and time friendly solution to this challenge. It will also allow companies to have a disciplined training system that they can use to train labor of other small companies and charge them a good amount instead.  

Challenge # 4

Socio technical challenges

The implementation of IT to enable industry 4.0 may result in:

  1. Polarization of jobs.
  2. The favor that the labor deserves would be shifted to the capital. 
  3. An increased monopolization.
  4. Technical unemployment due to lack of skilled labor.
  5. Increase in ecological fears for population.

Possible Solution:

The industry 4.0 is undoubtedly a socio-technical system. To address the above-mentioned challenges, the joint integration of socio-technical system is required. This can be made possible by training the labor to develop tolerance for machines and design and operate the IT systems in labor friendly way. This can be done in the same way as we talked earlier i.e., training programs should be held to optimize the socio-technical environment within the industry. 

A socio-technical system must have following characteristics for successful implementation of industry 4.0:

  • System must contain interdependent parts.
  • System must have an internal environment consisting of separate but interdependent social and technical subsystems.
  • Joint optimization of social and technical subsystems decides the performance of this system. If one subsystem is favored and is given more resources, it means the other is ignores thus the system will crash. Hence it must be designed in a way that both get equal opportunities. 

Challenge # 5

Cyber security

The implementation of industry 4.0 model means putting the important data on online and transparent platform where there is always risk of cyber-attack remains. 

Cyber security is the backbone for implementing the industry 4.0, otherwise, the lack of proper security system will eventually cause businesses to crash. 

Possible Solution:

The companies can consider following points to prevent themselves from cyber-attacks:

  • Companies must use operating systems that offer automatic updates. Keeping software UpToDate and installing them in patches will cause cyber attackers to not take any advantage of system’s established problems or vulnerabilities. 
  • Companies must have strong passwords and keys to access their systems. It is estimated that 63% of cyber-attacks are successful because of weak passwords. So, creating a strong password and changing it constantly within specific intervals can help companies prevent cyber-attacks. 
  • Companies must consider MFA tool. MFA (Multifactor authentication) uses two identity components to allow access to a system. This makes the system more secure even if the attacker knows the password.