Industry Insights

4 Technologies That Will Shape Industry 4.0

The term Industry 4.0 embodies for many a paradigm shift only comparable to the changes humanity experienced with other major industrial innovations like the mechanization thru steam power, the introduction of mass scale assembly lines, electrification and the computerization of manufacturing processes.

I am too convinced this is transformational because it is changing two foundational axioms in economics:

  • A significant adjustment in the labor market since Industry 4.0 will drive the empowerment of unmanned systems to make decisions and take control over production, something critical for low margin capital intensive industries such as electronics, automotive, aerospace, and healthcare. The expectation is that the more delegation of authority into cyber-physical systems, the greater return on investment. In other words, it is believed that an investment shift from labor to capital should increase margins to levels not possible with current business models.
  • More supply elasticity with the introduction of Demand Driven (Mass) Production techniques based on software defined processes and smart products. And I didn’t mean here a new fancy wearable! I meant that – in Industry 4.0the product controls the production and the machines by which it is being assembled, requesting services from them: e.g. choice of color, add feature / quantity according to the customer order.

Industry 4.0Today Industry 4.0 is a topic that is going viral in business forums, a recurrent discussion thread in blogs and it is a main theme in many industry fair and exhibitions. I believe it should be a major point in the strategy agenda for companies playing in capital intensive industries. I am also pretty sure that many of those companies don’t know really where to start or what to choose from the many technologies and different standards available.

Choosing the right technology will not be an easy decision and it will depend on the business model, the type of products, industry segment and client base. It will also depend on the current capabilities and where the company is strategically heading. However there are some common ground technologies that any company should be exploring – if not embracing already – in order to be ahead of the game. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Internet of Things
  2. Big Data and Analytics
  3. Autonomous vehicle
  4. 3D Scanning / Printing

 

  1. Internet of Things

This technology is ready now and it will become more dominant throughout the next 5 years. IoT can be considered as the nexus that makes Cyber-physical systems function, allowing M2M operations, virtualization, decentralization and real-time capability. It was by far the most seen theme at the consumer’s electronics fair IFA 2015 in where very few exhibitors were not demonstrating sensor equipped products or services. We all know that instrumented devices are worth little unless they are interconnected and have the capacity to collect and analyze the vast amount of data they produce. So choosing the right IoT platform and a solid analytic engine will be the backbone for your Industry 4.0 Strategy.

  1. Big Data and Analytics

Another technology you should consider investing in within the next 5 years if you are not already. Smart Factories will function based on SW defined devices that will respond to the data they generate. Interconnected factories and machines will learn from all this information in order to reprogram themselves, deal with mass customization requirements, set up predictive maintenance and eliminate waste. Having an efficient analytic engine at the core of your manufacturing network, connected to the IoT platform and supported by a scalable IT infrastructure is a pre-requisite to real-time capability, interoperability, decentralization and service orientation.

  1. Autonomous Vehicle

Like Google’s car, Rolls Royce’s drone cargo ship or more like the automated guided vehicle systems used at HHLA container terminal in Hamburg. The application of autonomous vehicle to the industry is quite clear and although we are still 5 to 10 years away from viable use, pioneering enterprises should take stock now of this technology. Autonomous vehicles will demand strong and secure wireless communication and this innovation will deliver to most of the Industry 4.0 criteria: interoperability, virtualization, decentralization, real-time capability and service orientation.

  1. 3D Scanning & Printing

This is my favorite and the one I am betting on. It is going to radically change the way products are built and marketed. Imagine 3D print vending machines at your nearby convenience store you can use to produce your own designs in a matter of minutes, or the ability to provide remote maintenance services and delivering a replacement part without shipping it. Some factories are already producing plastic parts with 3D printers but I still think this technology is slow and very limited. It will not reach economic viability before the next 10 years. Modularity, interoperability, virtualization and service orientation are brought in by the 3D tech and – like the autonomous vehicle – you don’t want to be the last exploring its potential.

 In a next blog, I will share more details about theses technologies but let me finish with this question: do you think the electronics industry is building  a foundation for artificial intelligence  with the implementation of these 4 technologies?

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SCM Senior Managing Consultant - Global CoC Electronics at IBM

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