Industry 4.0 is leading the way for tomorrow’s manufacturing base, and it is defining the construction of Smart Factories.

The trend known as Industry 4.0 is an amalgamation of technologies that have only relatively recently came into being. It is made up of cyber-physical systems, cloud computing, and cognitive-based processing, along with advanced computing paradigms. With its revolutionary impact on the world of manufacturing, it is often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is leading the way for tomorrow’s manufacturing base, and it is defining the construction of Smart Factories.

The History of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution in modern history, but what came before it? By looking at the previous three industrial revolutions, we can arrive at a better understanding of what Industry 4.0 is and what it offers.

Industry 1.0: The first industrial revolution began when mechanization was introduced to manufacturing. Through the use of applied scientific methodology, Mankind learned to harness water and steam power in an industrial setting. This created some of the first manufacturing plants in history.

Industry 1.0 was characterized by the use of mechanical power for its manufacturing needs. Often a factory of the era was strewn with driveshafts, belts, and other means of conveying mechanical energy into a given process.

Industry 2.0: The second industrial revolution began with the impact of the assembly line on manufacturing, and the birth of mass production. At this point, we adapted electricity to work in our factories, which made it all possible.

The electric motor was pivotal to the birth of Industry 2.0. By decoupling the manufacturing process from the mechanical power requirement, individual stations were possible that allowed for much finer control than was previously obtainable. New products were suddenly within reach.

Since the stations were self-contained by design, they could be set up across all of the factory floors where previously mechanical power transmission prohibited expansion. This flexibility allowed for faster industry growth.

Industry 3.0: The third industrial revolution was marked by the introduction of computer control and automation. This advancement allowed for even greater control of production while making it possible to replicate the process many times over in an automated fashion.

The computer control found in Industry 3.0 impacted both the manufacturing process as well as the information gathered on the industry and how it applied to the business at hand. Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing became a reality, tying together the market and manufacturing in an almost real-time relationship.

Industry 4.0: Now, with the fourth industrial revolution, we have cyber-physical systems that create the first smart factories. This industrial technology offers the greatest control over replication and output through a modularly structured design methodology.

Industry 4.0 is built upon four pillar principles. These four principles define this paradigm and how it interacts with itself and the world around it, usually through a computer-driven interface.

Principle 1: Interoperability (Interconnection)

Interoperability defines the ability of the components of industry (such things as machines, devices, sensors, and people) to connect and help create the Internet of Everything (IoE). A significant component of the IoE is the Internet of Things (IoT), which works to connect together the elements that make up the smart factories.

Wireless communication is an essential part of the IoT since it allows the components to communicate together locally as well as being accessible through the internet. Communication standards are defined which lets different vendors provide modular components in building the smart factories.

An essential part of the IoE is the Internet of People (IoP), which allows human actors in the manufacturing process to interchange information with the IoT. Through the IoE, people and devices remain flexible to quickly adapt to market fluctuations.

Principle 2: Information Transparency

This principle defines the ability of Smart Factories to create a virtual copy of the physical world through the use of complex sensor data fed to digital plant models.

The merging of the physical and virtual world allows for a context-aware information model. The resulting information is required for IoE actors to correctly respond to requests for decisions from the manufacturing process.

For transparency to be achieved, the resulting information needs to be accessible to all IoE participants. In the case of mission-critical processes, real-time access is of marked importance.

Principle 3: Technical Assistance

With Industry 4.0, the role of humans shifts from operators of equipment to strategic decision makers with flexible capabilities. In order to stay in control of increasingly complex designs, humans require technical assistance from intelligent systems that gather data and presents it to the human participant in a clear and informative manner.

Technical assistance may include physical robotic components to gather information in situations that could be harmful to people. These robots play a role in cases where it would be excessively exhausting or unpleasant for humans to undertake.

To make sure that humans are able to communicate effectively with the robotic information gatherers, protocols are defined for human and machine collaboration. Training in the use of these protocols is required for the IoP participants.

Principle 4: Decentralized Decisions

The fourth principle defines the ability of decentralized decisions to take place within the Smart Factories of Industry 4.0. Each cyber-physical subsystem should be able to independently make a decision and continue on with their dedicated functionality.

Decentralized decision capability allows each definable section of the IoE to act as an autonomous agent in completing their required tasks. Decisions are spread throughout the system to maximize response time and optimize flexibility while continuing to operate. The only time decisions are passed to a higher level is in the cases of exceptions, interferences, or conflicts.

There could be multiple layers in the decision process, with each layer having a broader view of the operations than the one below it. This layering allows for a decentralized regional decision without requiring a more centralized response.

Depending on the critical nature of the decision at hand, some requests can be passed up to a strategic decision maker, often part of the IoP. By layering the decision response structure, the system remains flexible and autonomous for all but the most challenging decisions.

Industry 4.0 is promising to lead the future of Mankind as we interact with the many new products that we can create with an unprecedented degree of quality. Contact us to see how our award-winning products can help you take part in Industry 4.0. After all, the future is now.