Only a few years ago, many Industry 4.0 observers were saying things like, “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” Grand statements were aplenty.
But, were they true? Or are we, today, taking things for granted like kids playing with smart phones that only 10 years ago were cutting edge. It’s worth stepping back to see where we are, now that the dust has settled.
The convergence of industrial production and communication technologies – commonly called Industry 4.0 – is an often discussed and often misunderstood topic from the perspective of business owners and management.
Although Industry 4.0 is a diverse and fragmented concept, there are some common notions of what it means in practice for today’s industrial manufacturers. This fourth phase of industrialization augments the mechanical with wireless digital communication technologies, robotics, and automated systems.
As a result, massive amounts of valuable data are generated for acquisition, processing, and critical analysis by AI-trained servers and cloud-based services to deliver better productivity, optimize processing efficiency, and proactively maintain the smooth and trouble-free running of assembly lines.
Entire productions lines can be visualized from start to finish, top to bottom, allowing management and machine operators to make smart decisions that eliminate human error and yield products that are better made, have fewer defects, and most crucially, cost less than other rival offerings.
Current Attributes of Industry 4.0
Wireless communication technologies and the IoT means that equipment, sensors, and “things” can be linked to cloud-based services that monitor processes for effectiveness and efficiency, while also collecting data for visualization and streaming to large dashboard displays that facilitate monitoring and management.
Digital, wirelessly connected factories generate vast amounts of essential production line data. Interconnectivity between legacy equipment and new systems is achieved through protocol compatibility tools. This allows operators to manage all assets and capture immense amounts of data at all stages of manufacturing in order to identify key areas and processes for improvement through optimization.
The Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) allows autonomous decisions to be made at the network edge both inside and outside of production facilities. This ability to combine local and global information simultaneously helps improve decision-making and boosts overall productivity.
This fifth generation of wireless mobile communication technologies will have a major impact on how services are delivered due to their high data transmission rates, reduced latency, energy savings, cost reductions, and increased system capacity.
With the digitalization of all essential factory assets, the number of connected devices is increasing exponentially. Many manufacturers are already leveraging 4G to integrate and interconnect all factory equipment in an effort to realize smart manufacturing solutions. However, 5G will be the next big catalyst for scaling up smart factories. Indeed, certain manufacturers are already betting on 5G and IoT to deliver the ultra-low latency, high bandwidths, and reliable communications needed to upscale production in their factories.
Ericsson: Cutting the Cables on 5G Scalable Smart Manufacturing
Many business owners recognize the changes Industry 4.0 promises, but they are not sure how to capitalize on the opportunities. Mr. Erik Josefsson, Head of Advanced Industries at Ericsson, is closely involved in the rollout of 5G and therefore ideally placed to provide a unique insight.
He recently said of Industry 4.0, “Manufacturers today are seeking efficiencies in production, and the ability to deliver a broader mix of customized products to their customers. They know that staying competitive will require operational processes and production lines to be integrated and adaptable in order to enable fast configuration changes and reduce lead times. And all of that needs to occur without compromising an inch on safety or quality.”
5G is already being rolled out and Ericsson is making big strides toward wireless manufacturing. In Estonia, Ericsson has partnered w it h a manufacturing plant to implement an intelligent automation system that incorporates machine learning and artificial intelligence into their production processes.
Their aim is to facilitate real-time data analytics and establish an end-to-end automated manufacturing chain powered by 5G robotic cell sensors.
The 5G solutions enabled by increased connectivity–sensors, cloud robotics, centralized asset tracking, remote quality inspections, and automated factory processes–don’t just mean all operations are interconnected within one facility.
Instead, there is also the potential to link multiple factories and even facilities of third-party partners together to form an ecosystem of smart manufacturing centers around the world.
“The so-called mobile Internet of Things is a way of connecting physical things, such as sensors, to the Internet by having them use the same mobile networks as smartphones. It might just be the answer for manufacturers. So, investing in mobile IoT and creating smart factories is a massive undertaking, but it is essential to driving a scalable Industry 4.0,” enthused Mr. Josefsson.
The Future of Manufacturing is Smart, Secure and Stable
New IoT technologies enable the development of smart factory infrastructures for the communication networks to be applied directly to industrial plants in the name of speed, security, and ease of use. “A connected factory leads to smarter manufacturing,” said Mr. Josefsson.
Everyone now sees the benefits of a mature Industry 4.0. Trends towards data visualization and analysis, adaptable production lines and customized products, ecosystems and partnering, are all transforming manufacturing and how we do business. The future of manufacturing will benefit companies, employees, investors, and global customers in the IoT era.