Today, in the global context, the landscape of manufacturing industry is highly competitive, and industrial companies are under pressure to continually improve. The competition is not only among companies, but also among countries that have a robust manufacturing industry such as Germany, Japan and China. As per recent reports, manufacturing will be transformed from single automated cells to fully integrated, automated facilities that communicate with one another and boost flexibility, speed, productivity and quality. In this context, Industry 4.0 will transform design, manufacturing, operation and service of products and production systems. In this feature, industry experts Dr Daniel Kuepper, Partner & Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group and Rajabahadur V Arcot, Automation Consultant, discuss how technological advancements will shape up the building blocks of future factories.
Towards technological drivers
According to Rajabahadur, to make or produce a product is one thing, but for a manufacturing company to be successful, it will have to outperform their competitors. “This drives manufacturing companies to strive to innovate new products, get them into the market faster, make them feature-rich and user-friendly, and build them to ensure customer satisfaction in terms of quality, and such others. They also focus on achieving efficiencies along the value chain, containing costs, and becoming more productive and efficient in use of all resources,” he explains.
Kuepper believes that there are nine technology drivers that form the foundation of Industry 4.0 and are already used in manufacturing applications. “It includes Big Data and analytics, cloud applications and cyber security, industrial internet, horizontal/vertical integration, advanced robots, Additive Manufacturing, augmented reality and simulation,” he shared.
According to the report on Industry 4.0 from the Boston Consultancy Group, these pillars of technological advancement transforms production: isolated, optmised cells will come together as fully integrated, automated and optimised production flow, leading to greater efficiencies and changing traditional production relationships among suppliers, producers and customers as well as between human and machines. Also, an enhanced co-operation between humans and robots enable the component manufacturer to produce multiple component types from a single production line.
The growing interconnectivity of machines, products, parts and humans will also require new international standards that define interaction of these elements in the digital factory of the future. As per the report on Industry 4.0 from the Boston Consultancy Group, Germany’s Platform Industrie 4.0 was the first driver, but the US-based Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has become a prominent alternative in the recent past.
Transforming manufacturing process
Currently, only few manufacturer’s sensors and machines are networked and make use of embedded computing. They are typically organised in a vertical automation pyramid in which sensors and field devices with limited intelligence and automation controllers feed into an overarching manufacturing-process control system. This allows field devices to communicate and interact both with one another and with more centralised controllers, as necessary. It also decentralises analytics and decision making, enabling real-time responses.
As per Kuepper, Industry 4.0 offers multiple benefits, which include flexibility, productivity, quality and speed. Also, safety, working conditions, training & qualification, environment protection and innovative capability are enhanced. “Industry 4.0 has significant impact across manufacturing verticals such as depth of value creation, manufacturing network and shop floor optimisation,” he shares.
Explaining further, Rajabahadur believes that ‘Internet of Things’ have caught the imagination of the technology companies, including automation companies that describe intelligent & networking devices that exchange data/information. “IoT devices, when embedded in a physical entity, such as a sensor or an actuator, can capture and analyse data relating to physical entity, generate relevant information and initiate action, and share the same with other networked devices. They also can perform other assigned functions. Such intelligent devices, when applied in industries, such as automotive or electric power or others, act as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and turn the manufacturing equipment with embedded intelligent devices as a cyber-physical system,” he adds.
Role of IT in company’s operations
As manufacturers demand greater connectivity and interaction of Industry 4.0 capable machines and systems in their factories, manufacturing system-suppliers will have to expand the role of IT in their products. Changes will likely include a greater modularisation of functionality with deployments in the cloud and embedded devices. Many manufacturing companies are also starting to harness the power of Big Data in their factories for better planning & scheduling in the shop-floor operations.
Given that the recent advances in IT has taken data & information acquisition and analysis to new levels, Rajabahadur believes that information technology has almost become integral to industrial companies’ operations. He opines,“They facilitate faster & more accurate real-time data & information acquisition, contextualising & co-relating them, appropriately visualising and archiving them, etc. Technology allows embedded devices, such as sensors & actuators to be networked, so that they can share information.”
According to the report on Industry 4.0 from the Boston Consultancy Group, the fourth wave of technological advancement will bring benefits in four areas: productivity, revenue growth, employment and investment. While Industry 4.0 will be embraced by more companies, boosting productivity across all German manufacturing sector, it will also drive revenue growth of about 30 billion euro a year, or roughly 1% of Germany’s GDP.
At the same time, the growing use of software, connectivity and analytics will increase demand for employees with competencies in software development and IT technologies, such as mechatronics experts with software skills. In addition, adapting production process to incorporate Industry 4.0 will require German producers to invest about 250 billion euros in the next ten years.
The way forward…
Producers as well as suppliers must work to adapt infrastructure and education as they embrace the technologies of Industry 4.0. This is best addressed through a combined effort involving government, industry associations and businesses to upgrade technological infrastructure such as fixed and mobile-branded services as well as adapt school curricula, training and university programs and strengthen entrepreneurial approaches to increase IT-related skills and innovation abilities of the workforce.
It goes without saying that industries and countries will embrace Industry 4.0 at different rates and in different ways. Industries with a high level of product variants, such as automotive and food & beverage industries will benefit from a greater degree of flexibility that can gain productivity gains, for example. Countries with high-cost skilled labour will be able to capitalise on the higher degree of automation combined with increased demand for more highly skilled labour. However, many emerging markets with a young, technology-savvy workforce might also jump at the opportunity, creating new manufacturing concepts.
India, with a growing economy, needs a robust manufacturing industry capable of contributing more to the country’s GDP and creating better livelihood opportunities outside of agriculture for millions of people. Keeping this in mind, Rajabahadur briefs, “Trends associated with the ‘Factory of the Future’ present the country’s manufacturing industry an excellent opportunity to leverage them to leapfrog. It also presents the country’s technology companies to emerge as global players in the development of Internet of Things devices, architecture, and platform. According to recent reports, young entrepreneurs in large numbers are starting new companies, especially, in the information technology domain. It is time that some of them explore opportunities in the domain of IoT and connected enterprises.”
On a concluding note, Kuepper suggests that no one-size fits all solution. As such, one should make sure to thoroughly select the right use cases and potentially partner for application engineering. He further explains, “New capabilities will be required in your company, so, be prepared to hire talents that are potentially not in your current recruiting scope (e.g. data scientists). Industry 4.0 does not replace process improvements through lean manufacturing. Nevertheless, the technology driven optimisation is a great complement to it.”