You've probably heard the term Industry 4.0 by now. If you're like most, it probably sounds a bit space age, but we’re already seeing ideas and plans for change. Before much of anything happens, however, the development of software and analytical systems that can turn the deluge of data produced by intelligent factories into useful and valuable information must be addressed first.
Industry 4.0 carries many meanings, but early developments in this area have involved adding more flexibility and individualization to manufacturing processes. For example, to keep up with huge worldwide demand, daily production of iPhones runs to the hundreds of thousands at Foxconn. Any changes that Apple makes to the hardware of the iPhone can cause headaches for production. Foxconn has therefore tried to ensure that its manufacturing process, with thousands of CNC machines, has the flexibility to adapt.
Another example is Krohnes, which is engaging in the individualization of mass production by personalizing labels on everyday household items. Along with electronics manufacturers, the food and beverage industry has been an early adopter of flexible, individualized manufacturing processes. And the automotive manufacturing industry, where manufacturers need to tailor their cars to the needs of individual customers, is another industry priming itself for this revolution.
Industry 4.0 is not something that will suddenly arrive overnight. But in the coming years there will be a gradual change to more networked components and machinery, which are connected to the enterprise, which have the intelligence to decide what data is important to share and what isn’t.
In some ways, the trend of manufacturers using technology to add flexibility to industrial processes has been ongoing for a number of years. However, these trends are likely to gain momentum in the coming years, as the need for more individualized production increases.
Mark Watson is associate director at IHS Industrial Automation.