Industry 4.0 is an initiative of the German government to promote computerisation in traditional industry sectors, such as production engineering.
The goal of the project is the Smart Factory, to include fundamental technologies like cyber-physical systems and the internet of things.
The term Industry 4.0, which is almost exclusively used in Germany, denotes the fourth stage of the industrial revolution. Following on from the invention of steam-driven machines, conveyor belts and office computerisation, the focus is now on the integration of web technologies in products and production engineering. Outside Germany, Industry 4.0 is better known as Industrial Internet.
One of the Industry 4.0 technologies is cyber-physical systems, which combine computer and mechanical technologies and are also known as mechatronics. They are instrumental in the creation of systems that are as autonomous as possible.
They include the initial steps towards driverless cars, such as the Google Car, as well as the Rover that is currently discovering Mars. Although the Mars Rover is managed from a control centre, it is still an autonomous device.
Due to the time it takes to transmit a signal from Earth to Mars, the Rover cannot be piloted with “normal” remote control.
The Rover's local sensors observe its surroundings and its software analyses the resulting data, takes decisions and gives driving commands that are executed by the mechanical parts.
These concepts have already been implemented in the parking assistance and collision prevention functions in certain cars. The major features of cyber-physical systems clearly include sensors that observe their surroundings and embedded software to autonomously monitor and drive the system.
Cyber-physical systems have the potential to significantly increase productivity in manufacturing and in the supply chain. Processes that have only controlled production workflow are now being extended to objects (or devices).
These objects become a part of a process, and processors are embedded into objects. This phenomenon can be summarised by the term “Smart Factory”, a combination of enterprise-wide production logistics, man-machine and machine-machine interaction as well as 3D replication in industrial applications.
The result is more autonomy and smart production processes that can control and regulate themselves. The advantages include manufacturing process optimisation that goes beyond Lean Manufacturing, along with the avoidance of damage and accidents due to the timely detection of problems and risks.
This is already a familiar concept in IT with self-healing systems, in which any errors that arise are detected and resolved by the system itself. The Industry 4.0 initiative is designed to carry this concept over to things like production processes on the meta level and products themselves on the instance level. An example would be the creation of a 3D replicator seen as a production process whose end product is the 3D replicator.
The second technology inherent in Industry 4.0 is the internet of things. The idea behind this is that devices can be interconnected via the internet and communicate with each other.
With its Industry 4.0 initiative, the German government is focusing on the “Smart Factory,” on intelligent production systems and processes as well as the creation of distributed and networked production sites. The goal is to strengthen and advance Germany's position as an industrial and exporting country – manufacturing that has been outsourced to low-wage countries can be brought back to Germany.
However, there is a long way to go before we achieve Industry 4.0. There are still difficulties in mastering security and managing the volume of communications and data.
Security is clearly the top priority. It covers two main aspects: the reliability of the embedded software and protection from hacking.
One only needs to imagine a system failure in a driverless car going at 130km/h on a motorway, or a cyber-attack on a production site in full operation! As for the management and analysis of very large data volumes, this is covered by the term “big data”, for which new technologies and processes are currently appearing on the market in very fast innovation cycles. These problems appear to be relatively easy to resolve.
Other issues include the question of the standardisation of protocols and interfaces. At the end of the day, this will depend on industry's willingness to collaborate on Industry 4.0 initiatives.
In addition, there is also a very different problem for Industry 4.0: will it create more jobs than it destroys? One of the first opinions on this subject is from MIT, which says that for the first time in history even today's technologies destroy more jobs than they create. As a result, society is faced with a hitherto unknown social and economic challenge. No solution has yet emerged, but it is a phenomenon we urgently need to address.
Industry 4.0 is a term that Rockwell Automation has long referred to as smart manufacturing or manufacturing convergence. In this Connected Enterprise the plant floor connects with enterprise systems in a seamless and secure way to utilise new technologies such as mobile devices, the cloud, and big data.
Published February 26, 2014