Industry 4.0—What Does It Mean to Your Operations?

Although buzzwords like Industry 4.0, IIoT, Big Data and more might set off B.S. alarms, they are important developments that can have a positive impact on your operations.

My first job out of college was as a manufacturing engineer at a paper mill. It was challenging and fulfilling, and presented an opportunity to learn from my first real boss, Jim, who would soon become a mentor. Jim was full of humble, insightful advice. One of his most compelling lessons was: “If you don’t know the answer, don’t try to B.S. your way through. Just say you don’t know.” This advice has served me well over the years, though I do admit to skirting the edges of B.S. every now and then.

As vice president of sales and marketing for an engineering consulting firm, I’m often asked to comment or speak to large groups of senior executives vying to keep their companies on the forefront of technology. Trends such as Industry 4.0 often register on the B.S. meter as most people are searching for practical, business-driven reasons for change—not buzzwords, acronyms and jargon. What exactly is Industry 4.0 and how do we sift through the B.S. to find the facts?

Industry X.0 considers the evolution of powered manufacturing (1.0) to mass production, the scale of electrical energy (2.0) to automation, the age of computers (3.0) to the proliferation of distributed devices, data and the networks that provide the backbone to nearly every aspect of our daily lives (4.0). Industry 4.0 is a collection of technology trends that can be used together or as point solutions to modernize manufacturing processes, manage risk, and improve the accuracy, distribution and integrity of data.

To better understand Industry 4.0 trends and how they can help your organization, please see the following examples:

  • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT refers to the ability to distribute intelligent devices to capture information from places, processes or equipment that are not normally capable of communication. Consider any manufacturing operation struggling with understanding downtime. If their equipment is not intelligent or connected to a network, they’re limited in what or how they can track downtime, other than operators physically logging it on paper. Automation for the sake of gathering data can be cost-prohibitive, until now—IIoT offers an increase of affordable devices that can be dropped anywhere to capture and transmit data directly into the cloud. From there, powerful analytics tools can store and analyze this data to better understand where, how and why downtime might be occurring—at a fraction of the cost.
    An example would be a sensor or button with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capability set on a production line to track product (count) or even movement (if the machine is in operation). This can be expanded to additional sensors at various points in the process to provide more detail about where the machine failed and at what frequency, all without human hands ever touching the data. Many companies use this data collection as the first step in understanding their issues, or to justify capital investment or modernization efforts.
  • Big Data. Big Data would be a natural progression beyond IIoT because it uses the data captured from IIoT devices and other systems to identify events, diagnose root cause, and in some cases even predict these events. IBM’s Watson Elevator Repairman TV commercial is a great example of the power of Big Data. Watson reviews historical and real-time data to predict that Elevator #4 will fail in two days and proactively calls a repairman.
  • Cybersecurity. During Industry 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, most companies were concerned about physical security: door locks, security guards, asset tags, etc. Industry 4.0 considers the security of data and intellectual property over physical assets. Connecting IIoT devices and existing automated equipment to any type of network creates vulnerability and increases the risk associated with a data breach or malicious attack.
    Many cyber criminals recognize that it’s easier to penetrate operational technology (OT) than information technology (IT). Industrial controllers and OT networks don’t receive the same operating system or application updates that contain many security fixes included in IT updates. Why is that?
    OT systems are often mission-critical and downtime comes at a premium. Performing an update in an IT office environment can be done after hours or during shutdown (can’t we all relate to “please do not shut down, updates in progress” as we’re trying to power down and go home for the night?). It’s quite difficult to take down a smelting process or a 365/24/7 manufacturing operation. Having a proper OT strategy, including cybersecurity, can improve redundancy and reliability, and reduce the risk of data breach or malicious intent/sabotage.

Something else to consider: While not technically a trend, documentation becomes even more critical as your organization goes digital. We are often called into action after a key internal client resource suddenly leaves, taking critical tribal knowledge and system design with them. These departures bring to surface the lack of documentation or understanding of key processes and procedures. Examples include network architecture (what kind/how many devices are on our network, and why?), information flow (alarms, maintenance requests, etc.) and programming/logic (if a machine crashes, who can start from scratch or troubleshoot to bring it back online?). Conducting a formal study into every aspect of your operation will determine information flow, process parameters and key points of risk/failure. Documenting these processes will reduce risk, improve uptime and drive quality.

There are many more examples of Industry 4.0 in action, but this should help avoid the need for B.S.—and, more importantly, convey the impact that Industry 4.0 can have on your operations.

Pete Durand is vice president of sales and marketing at Avid Solutions Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avid Solutions, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.


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