Why Should I Care About Industry 4.0?

May 10, 2019
Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, Industrial Internet of Things. These are some of the hottest buzzwords in the world of industrial technology today. But how can you make sense of all this? And how did we get to 4.0 anyway?

You might remember learning about “the” Industrial Revolution in school—the evolution from manual labor to machine-based manufacturing. The larger theme around this lesson was the transition from an economy that was primarily agrarian to an industrial one. The introduction of an idea like the division of labor and the assembly line, highlighted by Henry Ford, coupled with technology advances such as electricity, is recognized today as the second Industrial Revolution.

Many of us can recall when automation began showing up in factories. During the 1970s and 1980s, computerized devices were automating previously manual processes. We witnessed the deployment of technologies such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), numerical control (NC) and robotics. We know this as the third Industrial Revolution.

Today, the discussion is focused on Industry 4.0 (I4.0), or the fourth Industrial Revolution. I4.0 is a phrase that originated in Germany about a decade ago. Though the concept had been showing up at trade fairs and in trade magazine articles, I4.0 hasn’t had serious legs until the past couple years.

We’re starting to run now.

Strategies for I4.0 solutions

At the foundation of I4.0 are the themes of data and connectivity. To dispel a myth, I4.0 is not technology in and of itself, but rather a concept of how automation can be better used to help companies achieve operational goals that are aligned with business strategies.

The I4.0 discussion within an enterprise should begin with the business strategy. Where is the company headed? Is top-line growth the priority, and is increased capacity to meet demand the focus for operations? Is the business focused on reducing costs to remain competitive in a market with tightening margins? And what about manufacturing flexibility? How is the company addressing new market pressures, such as the ability to meet customization demands?

Understanding these strategic objectives is vital to ensure that subsequent discussions of how to achieve these goals are smart discussions.

To achieve these business goals in this digital era, operations leadership (and specifically the manufacturing operations of a company) must identify digitalization projects that align with the business objectives. Examples include reducing risk and addressing compliance requirements, which align with operational projects that address track-and-trace solutions. To do this, secure connectivity of automation systems and the strategic movement of data are critical.

Leveraging your data

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to anything that can be connected to the Internet, and this is what has enabled I4.0. IoT is a general term that includes everything from Internet-connected industrial technology products to consumer products, like smart appliances and home automation systems.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a subset of IoT that specifically refers to Internet-connected industrial automation technologies—from the system level down to the sensor level—in both factory and logistics applications.

With increasing demands on traditional manufacturing like increased traceability, quality control, limitless configurations and much more, it is vital to implement an I4.0 solution that helps enterprises stay competitive.

To meet these demands in manufacturing, it’s all about collecting, connecting and leveraging data to make intelligent and proactive decisions. Fortunately, Sick can help harness the value of all that data with superior sensing solutions that improve efficiency to reduce costs and increase revenue for competitive advantages.

Implementing I4.0 solutions

Now, there is no doubt about the benefits of digital transformation—efficiencies that reduce manufacturing costs, reduce downtime and prepare companies to be more agile and respond quickly to customer demands. So the question remains: Why are so many companies still hesitant to initiate I4.0 projects?

The answers are varied.

Many large corporations have assembled internal enterprise-wide digital transformation teams, with subcommittees focused on smart manufacturing. Value streams are identified and projects planned, but road bumps like identifying specific solutions or providing ROI justification cause delays. In some cases, the team lacks the specific expertise to complete the analysis for specific solutions.

Likewise, midsize and smaller companies often lack the resources to allocate staff to a dedicated I4.0 team.

Thus, for any of these examples large or small, there is interest in finding a partner to help guide the company toward appropriate solutions, prepare a roadmap and support implementation.

Pursuing partnered I4.0 solutions should begin with a clear understanding of your business strategy. Stakeholders should develop a common understanding of how the company plans to grow, and what will drive business initiatives to overcome market challenges. This approach will ensure consensus and provide a common foundation when creating a roadmap with the appropriate partner to implement successful automation projects.

For more information, visit Sick at www.sick.com.

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