Are we in the throes of a fourth industrial revolution? This is the line of argument put forth by proponents of Industry 4.0, a catch all description of how automation and cyber-physical processes are affecting the manufacturing industry.
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0, or smart manufacturing as it is also known, is an interplay of four technological trends rather than a guiding philosophy:
- Internet of Things (IOT): A network of computers and machines equipped with sensors, operating systems and actuators that allow data exchange and communication with other connected devices.
- Cloud Computing: A concept that allows access to non-local software, data storage and management applications via the Internet.
- Cyber-Physical Technologies: Any machine directed by an AI or algorithm and connected to other software and hardware assets via the Internet. Cyber-physical systems may be semi-or fully autonomous of human controllers.
- Cognitive Computing – AI software systems based on adaptive machine learning.
All pretty futuristic-sounding. These technologies do not describe how a typical manufacturer operates in 2018! At the moment businesses are adopting industry 4.0 methods in a piecemeal fashion, but the trends are clear. Interestingly, CMM sensor technology is leading the way to making smart manufacturing a reality in many workplaces.
The Goals Of Smart Manufacturing
The desired outcomes of smart manufacturing are greater efficiency, improved productivity and the ability to respond dynamically to customer requirements. For a better grasp of the practical benefits of industry 4.0 it is worth briefly examining how these technologies go about achieving them.
If ‘old-fashioned’ automation seeks to reduce human input and labour in manufacturing, smart manufacturing seeks to integrate all steps of the process into a harmonious whole. The desired outcomes are to speed up manufacturing, reduce errors and improve product quality, as well as making it easier to develop new practices.
Smart manufacturing generates a virtual environment whereby processes are mapped out and tested for optimal outcomes before being put into practice. This takes manufacturing out of the realm of trial and error and speeds up the design, inspection and troubleshooting stages.
One practical goal of smart manufacturing is to improve workplace safety and root out inefficient practices. This technology driven response to improvement strategy is seen in many warehouse management systems.
The key to these goals is accurate data gathering and sharing. This allows the process interaction and adjustments that make smart manufacturing so effective. In practical terms, therefore, a business can adopt Industry 4.0 by installing sensors on equipment and throughout the supply chain, enable wireless connections on the assembly line and implement a cloud-based data processing system to enable smart decisions.
Industry 4.0 In Metrology
An example of how advanced sensors can aid integration and efficiency is found in the new PULSE system from Hexagon MI. PULSE is a complete environmental monitoring solution designed for use with automated, unattended CMMs. It measures a range of factors including ambient temperature, air humidity, air pressure and luminosity, as well as cycle status, errors and crashes. Custom parameters can be set up and monitored remotely. When anomalies occur, notifications are sent by smart phone that allow rapid operator intervention. This reduces the risk of damage, errors and machine downtime.
Elsewhere in the sector, Industry 4.0 was the focus of an interesting exhibit at the Control International Trade Fair held in Stuttgart in April 2018. The most exciting developments were in data evaluation and interpretation software – the linchpins of smart manufacturing that enable appropriate levels of automation AND operator intervention when necessary.
What Smart Manufacturing Means For You
In the real world it is clear that Industry 4.0 does not entail signing over quality assurance or any other manufacturing process entirely to machine control. Rather it is an ongoing process of time optimisation and environmental management. Through small investments and leveraging the full benefit of existing technologies, new generation tech permits faster and more complex inspection cycles. The results: greater output, fewer bottlenecks, less maintenance, higher quality and satisfied customers!
 The preceding three industrial revolutions were, in order: 1) mechanisation – i.e. THE industrial revolution, 2) assembly-line production, 3) computerised/automated systems.