In today’s manufacturing industry, digitization and connectivity now play as vital a role as machines and labor.
This new paradigm, commonly referred to as Industry 4.0, has been made possible by innovations in technology that improve productivity, enhance safety, and empower stakeholders to make better decisions.
While new tools and systems emerge seemingly every day, there are a few core technologies that are vital to success in this new era — here are five:
1. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
Internet technology and smart devices have allowed us to synchronize multiple machines with our needs and desires. We can send information to a phone that communicates with a computer, beginning a cycle of data exchange that results in greater knowledge than either device could efficiently provide alone. There are even refrigerators that modify their functioning by analyzing user preferences.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applies these concepts to industrial machines and devices. Sharing data across an integrated network of devices — from the shop floor to the back office — can substantially improve productivity while reducing costs through predictive maintenance, remote monitoring, and other new capabilities. It also makes it easier for manufacturers to quickly scale and migrate their operations.
Actuators, which are often used to move or control large mechanisms, are an example of a traditional part that can be successfully integrated with the IIoT. Modern actuators can instantly provide data that lets workers know how well or poorly a machine is functioning. This information allows teams to prevent breakdowns and optimize performance.
2. Big Data
Through the IIoT and other systems, today’s manufacturers have unprecedented access to information that can be used to increase efficiency and make prudent business decisions. With the advent of big data technologies, this information can be harnessed successfully.
Extreme Networks, a company that manufactures wired and wireless networking equipment for various sectors, utilized big data solutions to integrate all of their information on suppliers, parts, and processes. The consolidation enabled them to be proactive — rather than reactive — when dealing with production challenges.
There a few tools and systems that contribute to this ocean of data:
Customer relationship management systems [CRMs] such as Salesforce
Finance tools such as Recurly, Stripe, etc.
Industrial databases such as the Thomas Network
Originally invented for the digital currency Bitcoin, blockchain technology allows companies in any industry to host secure yet accessible data, often in the context of buying. Industrial companies and manufacturers have used the system for transactions between everyone involved in the supply chain process.
Blockchain is like a network of shared spreadsheets and documents that are constantly updating and communicating with one another to reconcile discrepancies. Because there is no central source, it is much more difficult for hackers to access and corrupt data.
Industrial companies are investing heavily in the technology and using it for a wide variety of purposes, including:
Remotely verifying IIoT devices
Attaching tamper-proof dates and times to records to prevent editing or manipulation
Switching to a private blockchain — instead of the traditional public format — to share classified or sensitive information among business partners and executives
Using Blockchain’s ability to attach a unique tag to every transaction to improve quality control and accountability
4. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AU) is a technology that enriches live, physical experiences with information and visual aids. Manufacturing workers and engineers can use AU devices to enhance processes and more effectively collaborate. Imagine a mechanical engineer who uses the technology to receive feedback from management as he is designing a part. This method is significantly faster than passing drafts back and forth.
The technology is likely to be disruptive to the manufacturing industry because it has the potential to transform essential processes such as safety training, logistics, maintenance and product development. Wearable devices, usually headsets that enable real-time interaction with valuable data, are already helping workers become more efficient by reducing the time spent traveling back and forth between products and computers.
Modern robots can communicate with the IIoT to rapidly learn and become more productive. These machines can assist with transportation and tasks that might be dangerous for humans.
Pipeguard Robotics, for example, produces robots that swim through water pipes and detect leaks. Each device communicates with a cloud-based analytics platform. This method integrates data and provides valuable insights for manufacturers and local water authorities. The robots circumvent the problem of sending people to inspect pipes and risk damaging them.
By embracing and integrating these pieces of technology, manufacturers can continue to push the industry forward while growing their businesses.
Technology may be the foundation of Industry 4.0, but there are other critical elements manufacturers must master to thrive in the modern industrial landscape. To learn more about these other tenets, download our free eBook, The 4 Keys To Industry 4.0 Success.
Image Credit: Panchenko Vladimir/Shutterstock.com