Utilizing Big Data to improve its process, a gold mine in Africa saved $20 million a year . The car industry struggles to build a new car model in six years; Local Motors does that in one by tapping the boundless capacity of 3D Printing . Logistics firm Knapp AG slashed error rates by 40%; courtesy: picking technology based on Augmented Reality .
Big Data, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality and many more such technologies are steering the world of manufacturing and supply chain management towards a radically new destination – called Industry 4.0. Herein, three broad technological trends are clearly palpable – connectivity, adaptable automation, and intelligence .
These trends deliver a Cyber Physical System (CPS) which integrates manufacturing processes in the physical world with digital computers and networks. The digital monitors and controls the physical. Feedback mechanisms from both, the physical and the digital components, influence the other .
Also termed variously as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Smart Manufacturing, or Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 blends real world operations with intelligent digital technology, big data, and machine learning, to build a wholesome and linked network .
Smart Machines & Smart Supply Chains
Machines generate voluminous data when operating. Big Data analyzes this information to obtain valuable insights and spot patterns, something that would be near-impossible for humans. Based on such data evaluation, the machines make decentralized , autonomous decisions on operation and maintenance without human involvement .
Next, machines use interconnectivity to share the data and its analysis with other machines in the same organization . The network also makes them capable of sharing the same with other manufacturers employing similar equipment and/or processes.
Consequently, the productivity and efficiency of all such linked manufacturing operations rises substantially while wastage falls to a bare minimum . All in all, this creates an entire ecosystem of efficiency and productivity – smart machines in smart factories!
However, the human touch is not completely missing in this smart ecosystem. Making decisions in the face of uncertainty and executing operations that require intuition, experience, and creative thinking are areas still reserved for the human mind .
Supply Chains of the present day comprise of a complex web of interconnections that link the distribution network with product development and production operations . Shifting over to an interlinked, automated, and digitized supply chain requires sizable investments. However, the returns are immense viz. :
30% or greater cut in operational costs.
60% or more lowering of lost sales opportunities.
70% or higher reduction in inventory requirements.
Here is how these benefits can be realized :
Improved Transparency & Precision: Knowing precisely and in real time where the goods are located in the supply chain boosts the accuracy of orders, batch and lot control, and estimated time of arrival (ETA), while optimizing inventory levels and minimizing related costs.
Better Collaboration: Through improved transparency and uninterrupted flow of data, all stakeholders get to work closely and develop trust. Greater cooperation allows continuous planning, flexible pricing in view of fluctuating demand-supply situation, and minimal lead times.
Superior Demand Forecast: Predictive analysis of data compiled from sensors, weather prognosis, developments on the social media and other such sources has cut down forecast errors by as much as 50%. As a result, companies can maintain optimized stock levels that lower inventory costs while also avoiding shortage and surplus situations.
Excellent Warehouse Management: Real time tracking of consignments means warehouse supervisors know when exactly the goods will arrive. This facilitates pickup and delivery without delay, which, in turn, prevent waiting times that escalate labor working hours. Again, upgraded demand forecast promotes optimal utilization of warehouse space.
Bringing Stakeholders on the Same Page: Since all stakeholders refer to the same data, they use the same inputs for decision making. Such coherence is priceless when swiftly responding to a situation.
Adaptable Supply Chain: Machine learning empowers the supply chain to learn and evolve on its own in the face of fluctuating situations. Dealing with unpredictable risks does require human inputs though.
Summing up, smart factories and smart supply chains under Industry 4.0 are :
Linked: Data flows between various machines and departments of the ecosystem. Various points/stations in the related supply chains also exchange information.
Optimized: Operational algorithms analyze the data and optimize all operational facets with least human inputs.
Proactive: Data analysis predicts when a problem related to maintenance, inventory, or quality might arise. Such forecast enables preventive action.
Transparent: Management shares insights obtained from data analysis with the relevant department/point in the supply chain. The latter can initiate appropriate action.
Flexible: The factory is fast when executing changes in production, schedule, inventory etc. Through this, it maximizes returns and/or mitigates risks.
Technologies Powering Industry 4.0
A host of technologies are propelling Industry 4.0 towards greater acceptance. These include:
Internet of Things (IoT): Refers to a mechanism of interrelated and interconnected machines. These devices exchange data and its analysis over the network without human-computer or human-human communication .
Artificial Intelligence (AI): The capacity of machines (hardware and software) to learn from data evaluation is one of the pillars of Industry 4.0. It is AI that makes machines capable of self learning .
3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing: Is among the backbones of Industry 4.0. Makes products by accumulating thousands of layers of extremely thin molten material one over the other in the horizontal plane. A digital system directs the material depositing gun.
Mass Customization is among the chief benefits of 3D Printing. Manufacturers only have to change the digital file to make a new product. Traditional production processes involve costly product development and tooling stages, which compel mass production to make manufacturing viable. By eliminating the compulsion of mass production, 3D Printing makes it possible to set up small, decentralized manufacturing facilities that have short supply chains with better control over delivery.
Big Data: Collects and analyzes data from countless machines, points in the supply chains, social media developments, weather forecasts and the like. It is the interpretation of such data that empowers a proactive course of action, making Big Data a fundamental element of Industry 4.0.
Sensors and Data Collection: Data is the basic unit of Industry 4.0. Top quality sensors gather more accurate data. The evaluation of such data is more precise. Actions based on such analysis will invariably be more effective.
Nano Technology: Nano materials make exemplary sensors with incredible data gathering efficiency. And, data integrity is the starting point of Industry 4.0 .
Augmented Reality (AR): Visualization is a powerful tool. By superimposing virtual images on the real world view of the user, AR:
Simplifies complicated assembly involving large number of components .
Permits early detection of errors in prototypes .
Facilitates specialist support from remote locations .
Enables quick locating of warehouse inventory .
Allows salespersons to better explain products to clients .
Empowers supervisors to improve worker’s understanding of safety hazards and exit points .
Virtual Reality (VR): By generating a virtual environment resembling the real one, VR promotes :
Superior training of employees.
Swift detection of glitches in the factory planning process.
Easier plant inspections.
Autonomous Robots: Will be among the main executives in Industry 4.0. These will perform manufacturing operations and handle goods  under the supervision and control of computers and networks.
Autonomous/Unmanned Vehicles: Delivering finished goods to end users is very much a part of smart manufacturing, as is product recycling and post-sale services . Apart from internet connectivity and AI that respectively provide data and decision making ability, technologies such as Global Positioning system (GPS), Laser Illuminated Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and Inertial Navigation System (INS) will make vehicles smarter .
Industrial Mobile Device (Platform): Present day mobiles or smartphones can collect and process tons of data. With internet connectivity, quality cameras, and top class software, mobiles can monitor and control factory operations .
Cyber Security: A 2016 survey of industry experts by McKinsey identified cyber security as a major roadblock  in the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies. Improved cyber security measures will inspire greater adoption of Industry 4.0.
Slow & Steady: The Road Ahead
All innovations are slow to gather momentum. But once they accumulate critical mass, they cross the threshold of credibility and get moving in top gear. Premised as it is on the fate of numerous technologies, Industry 4.0 is in the process of gaining momentum. But thrive it will, for no one can stop an idea whose time has come!
Cybernetik has installed numerous turnkey mechanisms embedded with multiple elements of Industry 4.0 in our client’s systems to facilitate Predictive Maintenance and Process Monitoring. Shortly, we are coming out with Augmented Reality Modules to permit more Intuitive Operations and Maintenance.