The manufacturing industry is in the process of a massive overhaul. The past decade has brought rapid, dynamic transformation to the way we create and manufacture products, and the coming years promise innovations that build on these technological advancements. It is an exciting time with countless possibilities on the horizon.
Only companies that understand and seize the opportunities of this Fourth Industrial Revolution will make a mark in their industries.
What is industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, refers to the advancements in technology impacting all facets of manufacturing. Many experts believe that this revolution will bring us to the point of full – or nearly full – industrial automation.
The internet of people and things
Interconnectivity is one of the biggest drivers of this revolution. We live in a world where everyone (and everything) is more connected than ever before. The communication technologies of the Third Industrial Revolution (aka The Internet Age) brought us “the internet of people.” It opened up global markets and made it easier for businesses to collaborate on projects and conduct trade from anywhere on the planet.
What will this current revolution bring, and how can business owners prepare? Here are six ways you can stay ahead of the curve and meet the demands of the new normal.
Adopt the latest communications tech
In Industry 4.0, the Internet Age technologies of the past generation have advanced to enable communication between machines and other objects. This advancement is known as the “internet of things.” This communication ability helps streamline manufacturing and opens up entirely new worlds of possibility.
These advanced communication technologies provide many functional upgrades for manufacturers. For example, machinery can troubleshoot problems within their systems and remotely run diagnostics and complete repair protocols.
Harness the power of PLCs
Factories are unique environments that require specific types of technology. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are specialized computers designed to control manufacturing processes. These computers can control assembly lines, robotics, or other devices. PLCs are “ruggedized,” meaning that they’re adapted to operate in the harsh conditions that can sometimes exist in a factory setting.
PLCs can work in a wide range of temperatures and resist the loud noises and vibrations caused by heavy machinery. PLCs can be large or small in size, depending on what types of factory functions they control.
Logic controllers are hardly new technology; they were first used in the automobile industry in the late 1960s. However, these computers are being used today in conjunction with cutting-edge technologies to help facilitate smooth, efficient manufacturing functions.
To work smoothly, PLCs need to be well-maintained. That means checking ventilation, replacing I/O modules, performing data backups, and more. An experienced PLC maintenance company like Telstar Instruments can help your company keep its PLCs in the best shape they can be.
Upgrade your customer service
Manufacturing deals mainly with machines and products, but people are the ones who use the products. Even in an economy where automation is on the rise, companies will still have to pay attention to the needs and desires of their human customers.
The AI systems of industry 4.0 can help acquire and retain customers with things like targeted, analytics-based advertising, smart customer service chatbots, faster delivery, and much more.
If you can deliver efficient services, high-quality products, and an excellent customer experience, you’ll be sure to hold your own in the ever-changing world of manufacturing.
Aim for the smart factory
The “smart factory” model is a vision for a manufacturing facility where the machinery operates almost entirely independently, with little to no direct human intervention.
This automated vision is what many industry experts believe to be the factory of the future. In this type of factory, the entire production process can be completed each day, from start to finish, by communication between machines, devices, and systems.
Understand cyber-physical systems
To understand how all this works, it helps to know a little about cyber-physical systems.
Cyber-physical systems integrate physical systems with computation and networking. These systems monitor physical elements using algorithms attached to the internet. This ability to monitor physical surroundings and respond in real-time enables technology to run independently. We see this technology developing in things like self-driving cars and medical robotics.
This complicated concept is an emerging science still being explored by tech pioneers and engineers. It promises to play a primary role in the future of manufacturing.
Sustainable manufacturing has long been at the top of the priorities for business leaders and world leaders alike. There’s been more and more pressure on companies to reduce their carbon footprint actively. Those who can implement effective technologies to accomplish this are sure to be at the forefront of their industries in the years to come.
Cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) can help companies achieve sustainability goals in many ways. For example, a factory can have a “smart” heating system that responds to demand and usage on an ongoing basis to regulate the temperature as needed.
In another scenario, companies can use data analytics to produce real-time reports on factory equipment efficiency, ensuring no waste of energy on unnecessary processes.
In yet another example, 3D printing can be used to create product prototypes and, in some cases, the products themselves, quickly and with less environmental impact.
And, of course, if a factory operates with little to no need for humans on-premises, there will be less need for those employees to create carbon emissions via their commute.
Get ready for the knowledge economy
Over the centuries, each successive industrial revolution has relied less and less on physical labor. Instead, the advancements have been driven more by the creators, inventors, and planners, whose brilliant minds produced the great ideas of their times.
These era-defining breakthroughs are the foundation for Industry 4.0. So it's no surprise that the value of intellectual prowess is soaring in this new industrial revolution.
The final word
There’s still a lot to learn and apply in the manufacturing industry. The future looks bright for business owners who are forward-thinking, optimistic, and prepared for change. The true innovators will be the ones who learn to harness the power of emerging technologies and apply them to all facets of their business.