The development of Industry 4.0 in manufacturing

Centred on advanced robotics and automation, new modes of human-machine interaction, vast troves of data, and increased connectivity, Industry 4.0 is modernising manufacturing and boosting industrial competitiveness. This article has been published in the JEC Composites Magazine N°150.

The development of Industry 4.0 in manufacturing

4 minutes, 20 secondes

Coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0 offers manufacturers the ability to collect, analyse, and act on immense stockpiles of data like never before, and execute those actions with highly efficient, automated robotics. The result for composite business owners? Enhanced equipment productivity thanks to lower cost of harvesting and managing data.

IoT, the first pillar in rethinking the production process
The Internet of Things is a system of interconnected computational devices and digital machines that can share data over a network without requiring a human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. Over the last few years, such technologies have been introduced across various industries. All of these, from compact smart home devices like Amazon’s Alexa, to Bosch’s large-scale smart irrigation systems, have helped increase the efficiency of particular tasks and made our work and lives simpler overall.

Likewise, the rate at which digital transformation continues to develop has also increased year-on-year with the emergence of new technologies. But the initial focus was always on B2C markets, with technology that makes our personal lives easier. Gradually, more sophisticated IoT systems were devised for B2B markets like factories, waste management facilities, hospitals, etc., massively increasing operational efficiency and turnaround times all while decreasing costs.

For composites, IoT may not have seemed to be the most obvious extension for progress. And yet, due to the capacity for embedding composites, it had the potential to be revolutionary for representing accurate and robust data and solutions as an enabler for IoT within structural systems by embedding sensors, circuitry and logic in the laminate form of composite materials.

Challenges in the transition to Industry 4.0
Usually, introduction of new technologies is followed closely by the appearance of bigger problems to solve. In the case of scaling IoT integrations in B2B, the arduous task of seamlessly integrating and automating the workflows, processes and interaction with the assets comes next. To go into more detail, there are three main challenges that composite businesses face in their transformation journey towards Industry 4.0 using IoT.

The first challenge is the lack of a common interface to manage devices. Many industry leaders use various kinds of IoT devices across the world, and a particular business may require products from different brands to upgrade their operations. The problem arises when all these products have to work together but aren’t able to integrate seamlessly. Getting industries to conceptualise embedded composites is difficult due to the lack of coexistence of engineering disciplines with manufacturing entities. This can result in an increase in machine downtime and cause unnecessary interruptions in the workflow, which is counterproductive to the entire concept of digitising the workspace. This problem calls for a unified platform or a single interface to monitor, track or manage the devices. With a universal interface, businesses will be able to pick and choose the best products from different brands without having to worry about integration issues.

The second challenge is that no cost-efficient systems are in place. Without the availability of a unified system, the expenses of managing and maintaining different machines can increase. Services are available to help integrate machines from different manufacturers but they tend to be temporary solutions that require constant observation to make sure everything is running smoothly. In this case, the company would have to employ someone to oversee the results of the data collected by the machine, defeating the advantage of requiring no human-to-computer interaction.

The third challenge is that nothing is hardware agnostic. Currently, there are few-to-none computing components that can work with various systems without requiring special adaptations. This means that entire industries are dependent on the production of specific machinery in order to function and grow steadily. As we saw during the COVID pandemic, the global supply chain was disrupted, resulting in a shortage of chips which brought many industries to a standstill, like the automobile industry.

AI and AR to empower the industrial workforce
Alongside adoption of IoT, manufacturing companies are also integrating the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) into services like automation, machinery maintenance, staff training, etc. Augmented reality is an extension of the user environment, enriched in real time with text, graphics and multimedia content. Its goal is to enhance the physical world with meaningful and relevant information. Since the development of AR, it has mostly been used for entertainment, like in the popular mobile phone game, Pokemon GO, or for marketing, with the IKEA Studio application. Gradually, AR is being integrated across various industries, including manufacturing.

Automated robotics is one of the Industry 4.0’s pillar
Automated robotics is one of the Industry 4.0’s pillar

Manufacturing floors and warehouses are asset-intensive and workforce heavy, often with many operations to manage and optimise. The increasingly complex, AI-powered machinery requires on-site experts who are ever more specialised to train warehouse staff and/or repair the machines, if necessary. This type of resource is not readily available and quite expensive. Augmented reality comes into play here, in support of remote technology, maintenance, and collaboration.

While implementing AI and AR technology can be costly for businesses, the return-on-investment (ROI) on their practical uses is undeniable. ROI presents itself in the form of operational efficiency, where machines use artificial intelligence to self-diagnose any issues that are easily presented to floor staff through augmented reality. AI and AR also help reduce and/or prevent machine downtime altogether by seamlessly scheduling workflow. It prevents machine overuse through self-diagnostic alerts, instantly displays machine records and stats, and helps maintain the overall well-being of the machine.

One of the practical uses of augmented reality is to…

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