Industry 4.0. Smart Machines and Automation
The fourth industrial revolution is upon us and it seems there’s no stopping it. With the rapid advancement of high technology, the promises that appeared unrealistic only twenty or thirty years ago, are currently nearing fulfillment. As the world is slowly breaking barriers between man and machine, how will Industry 4.0 and automation affect global businesses and industries? How does it affect them already?
The German Industrie 4.0
The term Industry 4.0 was first introduced in a German government’s high-tech strategy that was meant to promote the computerization of industrial processes. The main principles of the strategy included interconnection, information transparency, technical human-machine assistance, and decentralization of decision-making. At the core of these principles laid the idea that machines are now smart, which is to say, advanced enough to allow them more autonomy in the production process. According to the strategy, the machines were not only to replace humans in performing tasks that were either too menial, repetitive, or complex to be carried out manually but also to partake actively in shaping the future of the production line, as their data-driven input or insight became indispensable for those who try to make it more efficient.
The promise of future gains was indeed grand. A machine that is not simply a tool like a hammer or a saw, but an intelligent, communicative device with the ability to improve itself on its own is already a great achievement. And a whole line of machines communicating with each other in perfect transparency and working in synchrony without the need for a human operator? That would be one of the greatest feats of engineering of all time.
Or at least it would seem so, especially for those who forgot that in 2011, when the term was first introduced, we already possessed (and proliferated) the crucial means necessary to make it happen: the Internet.
The Internet of People, the Internet of Things
There are many descriptions of the four industrial revolutions. Some are based on the distinct power source typical for the era (coal, gas, electricity, uranium, etc.) and others on historical processes, such as mechanization, the introduction of the mass production and the assembly line, automation, and finally emergence of cyber-physical systems. Generally speaking, the demarcation line between the revolutions of yore and the one we’re experiencing now is the invention of the Internet. Although for many it’s a part of the third industrial revolution, the Internet didn’t affect our everyday lives much before the 90s. And it seems obvious, that even then it was only a fraction of what it is now.
In 2016, Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, wrote:
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact […] The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited.
As we know, the Internet changed everything. It slowly evolved from a communication network to a technological extension of human existence. With unlimited potential in terms of inter-connectivity for both people (IoP, Internet of People) and machines (IoT, Internet of Things), it became a second, equivalent plane of reality. It has also completely transformed businesses and industries worldwide. The creation of the IIoT, or Industrial IoT, facilitated the process of automating most production and management processes which contributed to the emergence of the smart factory — one of the ultimate achievements of the revolution.
Smart Factory is one of the most important trends in Industry 4.0. It combines cyber-physical systems with the Internet of Things to bring about an almost completely autonomous production environment that can operate and improve without human intervention. Briefly speaking, the smart factory is run virtually exclusively by robots; they can transport, assemble, and pack the goods as well as provide the data needed for optimization.
Complete automation of the production line is beneficial in many ways. It can increase output, quality, and consistency by minimizing the possibility of errors and boosting compliance. It provides a more detailed analysis of production patterns and helps managers make more informed decisions. It also minimizes dependency on manual labor and allows factory workers to transition from menial to meaningful work.
The Value of Industry 4.0
All these benefits are part of a wide array of changes that Industry 4.0 brings. The automation of industrial and business processes has already had an impact on our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. As Klaus Schwab puts it:
To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives.
Aside from the consumer perspective, a complete overhaul of existing
industry value chains can also be extremely beneficial for industry and business leaders who decide to implement the innovations of Industry 4.0. According to experts, the reduction in overhead costs combined with increased efficiency in logistics and global supply chains should be a key driver of economic growth in the years to come.
Nonetheless, the adoption of innovative solutions is already an essential part of conducting a successful business. For enterprises worldwide, gaining a competitive edge can often mean a difference between progress and stagnation. At xBerry, we understand it well. That’s why our mission is to empower the efficient transformation of business and industry through the means that the fourth industrial revolution brought about.
Now, xBerry is on Designrush’s Top IoT Companies list. If you are interested in IoT or Smart Machines projects – contact our experts and tell us what’s on your mind!