Smart Factories of the Future
“We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.” –Klaus Schwab, Founder/Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum
A confluence of artificial intelligence, machine thinking, and greater technology power has begun to completely transform the manufacturing industry as we know it, unleashing the super-powered Smart Factory of the future and facilitating the advent of Industry 4.0, a world of cyber physical systems, IoT, and cloud computing. While steam power, the assembly line, and early automation are elements that drove the first three industrial revolutions, a new trend of machine intelligence is now powering the fourth. As in the advent of the prior revolutions, it’ll be an exponential leap towards a level of productivity not previously anticipated.
It isn’t difficult to see how we’ve arrived at this point in time. The rise of computing power and smaller chips facilitated this proverbial leap from the merely automated factories of the third industrial revolution. And while our IT prowess has facilitated great changes in our personal spheres, it has also entirely revamped the way in which we view and manage the business world, including methods of production and transport.
RFID-networked communications (based on radio-frequency identification) were the first entree to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The automation of inventory, asset, and commodity tracking quickly ensued. As a result, the amount of manpower needed to keep track of assets was reduced while the accuracy of production and progress increased. Industries were able to seamlessly track the inventory, location, and destination of commodities and parts, therefore enabling a more robust tracking system.
A leap in IT ability has driven forward the use of sensors and robotics on the smart factory floor, propelling Industry 4.0 as a result. Sensors, inexpensive and enduring, have served as a key component, working as “the eyes and ears” of manufacturing floors—collecting information, ensuring that machinery is working in synchronicity, that power is being conserved, and that systems are working in optimum conditions of temperature, humidity, and light. The influx of inexpensive sensors means that smart factories—and farms, stores, supply chains, and so forth—have all the more capabilities and potential to continue to create products in an optimal environment.
“Digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000.” –Pierre Nanterme, CEO, Accenture
The robotics field continues to progress, evolving from mere automation to a level of artificial intelligence that borders on self-adaptability and self-reliance. The supercharged analytics that this continued intelligence and adaptability provide leads to better resource utilization, tracking, staffing, increased efficiencies, better financial returns, environmental sustainability, and the solidification of optimized business processes. Greater electronic intelligence also allows for more product variation and change while maintaining quality, safety, and reliability, since it can automate product variations through smaller production runs without a significant increase in costs.
Product memory—the ability to record and later access the history of parts and products—means that these items can be located at any time, creating transparency across the entire value chain from the supplier to the customer; this is additionally enhanced by the elements of retail beacons and connectivity, ensuring instant feedback from the consumers on the retail side. 3D manufacturers will replace specialized part component makers, reducing the number of suppliers and lowering the cost of supply management. Intelligence must be integrated in even the smallest steps of the progress to enable this level of flexibility; the complexity understandably exceeds that of the traditional factory.
From a national perspective, Industry 4.0 has domestic benefits as well. Entire production centers that originally resided in the United States but were forced to relocate overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor markets may be relocated once more domestically, spurred by the new reality of supply chain optimization. The ability to drill down into the physical day-to-day operations using enhanced networking communications will allow manufacturers to better interrelate their R&D, procurement and purchasing, and sales. Plants can react more quickly to changes on demand, stock levels, and production errors. This will further cut back on waste. Industry 4.0 is revamping the way in which we relate to goods and services, as progressive as the very first industrial revolution.
Guest blog: Convetit
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