Industry 4.0 and Industrial Automation’s Role

Thanks to Industry 4.0, industrial manufacturing is changing and evolving to the point that we're not only measuring the output of the machines and predicting repair and replacement times, we're using artificial intelligence and machine learning to aggregate output, calculate the inventory used, and even helping with ordering. Industry 4.0 is intelligent equipment, automated processes and machines, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It's about reducing downtime and improving productivity, whether it's helping identify machine components that are about to break, or notifying that an associate's output has been flagged over the last couple of hours.

Why is Industry 4.0 so important? What impact has it had?

Industry 4.0, also called I4.0, is more than just computers being used in factories; that began in the 1970s. And it's more than just robots and automated systems. As AutomationWorld.com said, Industry 4.0 is ". . . a concept of how automation can be better used to help companies achieve operational goals that are aligned with business strategies." This latest trend has already had significant impact on the state of industry today:

  • For one thing, we're seeing improved productivity and quality. Imagine a machine that can tell you whether the part it just made met all its specs once it's made, rather than doing a spot inspection at the end of a shift after thousands of parts were incorrectly run.
  • Better supply chain management helps companies get their products to market faster and better. Not only can they predict when they'll need to order new raw materials, but they can keep their customers and distributors apprised of their inventory levels.
  • Predictive maintenance alerts floor managers to potential breakdowns before they're about to happen. This lets them plan maintenance and repairs during off hours, so the machines are always working during regular hours.

Finally, with better asset tracking, you can better monitor your inventory and its quality to tell you if and how to redeploy assets, or get a handle on how the factory as a whole is performing.

What is the current state of Industry 4.0?

I4.0 is still relatively new, and although the capabilities are there, we haven't seen every company embrace it fully. However, it's becoming a worldwide phenomenon, and factories all over the globe are taking up the mantle. In the U.S., automation and robotics have led to more high-paying, high-tech jobs, meaning workers can earn a six-figure salary. Of course, this has also led to the difficulty of finding enough skilled workers, so we're seeing an increase in the number of technology institutes to train these workers. In the United Kingdom, they have focused on using artificial intelligence and renewable energy as part of their industrial strategy, which is increasing investment in things like electric vehicle charging infrastructure and 5G mobile connectivity. But according to the Machine Design website:

Italy only launched an official initiative in the last few years and has yet to attract the necessary funding. Similarly, while France has made good progress in the development of autonomous energy-harvesting sensors, it must overcome its technology skills gap before it can create a truly prosperous digital industry.

What is the role of industrial automation with regard to Industry 4.0?

Automation is an important tool in Industry 4.0, although it's not the only tool in the toolbox. I4.0 is as much about information and data as it is using that data. Automation lets you create high-quality products with reduced waste and rejects; the data-gathering capabilities tell you when you're about to fall short of your quality standards. Automated technologies also allow you to increase your output all within a smaller footprint. If you ever need to increase your output, rather than adding another new building with a new line of machines, or adding another shift and hiring more workers, you can add additional automated machines that take up less space. Additionally,  automation can help you reduce high labor costs by using fewer associates to produce the same or more number of units. NuTec specializes in designing, building, and integrating assembly automation solutions, helping companies fully integrate Industry 4.0 best practices. If you would like to learn more about how you can upgrade your manufacturing facility, improve your productivity, all while reducing your error rates and waste, you can contact us for more information.

About the Author: Bruce Courtney

Bruce Courtney

Experienced professional with 30+ years working in creative technical fields. From my post-college years installing windmills in the mid-west (I affectionately call my Don Quixote years) through starting on the drafting boards at a Fortune 1,000 company, I have strived to provide unique out-of-the-box designs. This aptitude, coupled with leadership opportunities has led me down a wonderful path of challenging work.

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