Industry 4.0: Transforming the manufacturing sector

Industry 4.0: Transforming the manufacturing sector
Some 300 years after the Industrial Revolution, another one is taking place, bringing forth a transformational effect on the manufacturing sector. It is Industry 4.0, whereby connected devices in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) scheme and the data they generate help make factories smarter and more automated, enabling operators to achieve greater efficiency, reduce waste and better protect their workers.
Over the last three centuries, manufacturing has gone through several transformations. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, steam machines replaced human labor in the manufacturing process. In the early 20th century, the invention of assembly lines gave rise to mass production. Then, the rise of computers, networks and robotics enabled further automation at production facilities.
Now in Industry 4.0, sensors embedded in machines and the data they generate enable greater convergence between information technology and operation technology, making factories truly efficient and intelligent. “Industry 4.0 is changing the sector in several ways. The first area is around the connectivity of devices on the factory floor. More devices are being deployed with connectivity, or older devices are being retrofitted to support connectivity,” said Eric Ehlers, Marketing Manager for Manufacturing and Energy at Cisco. “This connectivity allows for a ‘liberation’ of useful data that can be utilized to drive better overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), predictive maintenance, and thus lead to more uptime on the factory floor. Manufacturers are also discovering ways to significantly lower cost, through optimization of power, reduction in raw materials, and a myriad of other ways to save money.”
Examples of industrial automation enabled by IIoT are numerous. Machine vision, for instance, replaces the human eye to make inspection of various products more effective and less error-prone. The same machine vision systems can also be used to direct automatic guidance vehicles, telling them where to go without much human intervention. Gas detectors or other types of sensors can detect leaks early and alert operators, who can then evacuate workers to minimize damage. In fact, the various benefits of IIoT are expected to drive growth further. According to a recent market research report by MarketsandMarkets, the IIoT market is expected to grow from US$113.71 billion in 2015 to reach $195.47 billion by 2022, translating into a compound annual growth rate of 7.89 percent between 2016 and 2022.
In an IIoT deployment, sensors collect various types of data, for example the status of the machines, the environmental conditions of the site and the amount of time each worker spends doing an operation. The data is then initially analyzed and filtered out by edge computing devices such as industrial PCs, before being sent to the backend for further analysis. Before IIoT, the different systems worked in silos and were not well integrated. Now with IIoT, greater interoperation and machine-to-machine communications have been made possible.
“In the early days integration of systems was based on serial technology. Serial technology was reliable, but was not very fast and could not scale well as bandwidth and throughput requirements increased. This older architecture meant multiple industrial data communication standards and siloed equipment. Ethernet standards have evolved over time to meet the deterministic requirements of industrial applications,” Ehlers said. “The benefit of Ethernet on the manufacturing floor is that it is based on open standards and therefore drives interoperability across the different devices and systems within and industrial setting. Devices can be connected wired or wirelessly. Legacy devices that are not Ethernet capable can be tied into Ethernet networks using gateways. Ultimately, full integration means the ability to manage data all the way down to sensors on the factory floor, and the ability to extract useful business insight from that data, across multiple machines and factories around the world.”
In terms of geographical markets that are the main adopters of IIoT, Ehlers cited countries that are the most advanced in manufacturing. “Lead countries include Germany, the United States, and Japan. These countries are also the lead manufacturers in the automotive industry, which consists of a very advanced and lean manufacturing process. Small improvements in downtime, or small cost reductions can mean big dollar improvements to the bottom line,” he said.

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