Industry 4.0: The Age of Machines

Posted by Chuck Harrell on Apr 14, 2015 1:52:00 PM

IndustryIndustry 4.0 is a popular buzzword across manufacturing.  But how did the transition to the Age of Machines start?

Driven by the power of steam, the first industrial revolution began in the 18th century when manufacturing first became mechanized.  The second revolution came in the early 20th century when mass production was deployed and the third came when electronic systems and computer technologies further automated production lines.  Industry 4.0 is the fourth step in this series of industrial revolutions meaning we have reached the fourth time in history that we have revolutionized industrial practice with technology.

Although still at an early stage, Industry 4.0 relies on sophisticated software and machines that communicate with each other to optimize production.  In Industry 4.0, smart connected machines work together and interpreting data while relying less on human intelligence.   The computerization of manufacturing, the high levels of inter-connectivity, the smarter factories and the communication between equipment, create a new era of automation, manufacturing technology, and supply chain development 'Industry 4.0'.

Each day, millions of dollars are spent, connecting industrial machines, automating manufacturing operations to the cloud, and coordinating these automation platforms.   Connecting these industrial machines to the Internet of Things gives them the ability to join an intelligent network that helps reduce the automation costs and transmitting vital operating data such as energy consumption.  This creates a continuous stream of valuable data for factory's staff that can be retrieved from a plant's machine to detect key trends or failures. In summary, micro machine data for data combined from several measurements are aggregated into a valuable macro view of a factory facility.

As working in the cloud becomes more pronounced and intelligent devices are increasingly connected through the Internet of Things, in the long run, factories will be run entirely by machines without human aid.  It is predicted that soon engineers will log into robot-assisted manufacturing systems to perform their work form the comfort of their own home.   This "cloud/remote manufacturing" opens telecommuting to a new generation of factory employees.  Traditionally, manufacturing has never been compatible with working from home. However, high-speed broadband and high quality video and telepresence enable engineers to manufacture products from a distance.  As a result, the machine becomes an intelligent self-led optimization engine, where resource availability, product demand and energy costs, is optimized to provide production process.

In the future, manufacturing processes and supply chain 4.0 will look entirely different to traditional manufacturing.  The factories of the future will do more with less.  Thanks to telepresence, less headcount will be needed if the factories, while the ways in which people work will be greatly streamlined. The age of machines, the cloud, and the big data are going to drive Industry 4.0 and change the way we produce and distribute goods.





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