What is industry 4.0?

By | 3 minute read | October 12, 2016

Industry 4.0: IoT does smart manufacturing

Industry 4.0 manufacturing is all about the increasing connectivity of smaller and smaller components. It uses the data collected by physical things, either built products out in the real world, or components within a machine on the production line, to impact how these things themselves are manufactured. The more information that can be gathered by these objects, the more effective the manufacturing process can become.

The idea is that a feedback loop is created between physical things and the digital world. The things themselves can tell us how they are being used, or when they are in need of repair – giving manufacturers information that can help optimise every stage of the production process, from supply, development and creation, saving time and money.

Case study: building a car

So how does the manufacturing process make use of the IoT? Let’s take a car company as an example. The company wants to know which products are best-selling, in order to adapt their operations intelligently. This impacts the entire process – from deciding what to make in the first place, to determining how to scale up production of best-performing components as effectively as possible, while utilising existing hardware. To achieve this, they need data analytics from physical things – both on the factory floor, and out in the real world.

Industry 4.0 informs what we should be making

Oddly enough, the final part of the process – selling the completed product – is also the starting point here. Tapping into retail information can give real-time insight into which products or product components sell best. If our cars are sold with optional extra features such as adjustable pedals or a pedestrian detection system, we can drill down into the available data to find out which features are most popular. If adjustable pedals are outpacing other available features, we can see that these are the money-makers and step-up production to anticipate demand. It’s no longer a question of building blindly.

The showroom itself is another goldmine of information about customer preferences. Sensors and video footage within the showroom demo areas can track where visitors tend to linger, showing which models are most appealing to these potential buyers. And you can also feed social media sentiment into the retail analytics to provide a broader picture of prospective new customers.

Connecting information with operational processes

If we learn that adjustable pedals are a best-selling feature, we need to change the manufacturing process to reflect this. There’s no point making endless additional features that won’t sell. Data collected from individual manufacturing plants and factory floors can show where stock is low, so that more can be ordered ahead of time from the supplier.

Real-time feedback from the factory floor

And what about the factory floor itself? How can IoT help streamline operations? This is where a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) comes into play. IoT-enabled robotic devices used on the factory floor can be configured so that they are recognised and catalogued on the system. These connected robots contain complex sensor networks to gather information about everything from humidity levels, temperature, vibration and acoustic levels, which feeds back information about real-time machine effectiveness.

Anyone looking at the data analytics can instantly see if there is a dangerous situation or simply a performance issue that needs fixing.

If a robot stops working, the HMI can show us instantly where the robot is located, and what might have gone wrong and remotely switch off power to the robot so that it is safe to approach. Video linking to supporting engineers enables users to share and annotate documentation to collaboratively pinpoint what needs examining, reducing costly downtime.

Interested to know more about how the IoT is impacting manufacturing? IBM has lots of cognitive manufacturing solutions, or check out how content analytics can improve product safety on our blog. Learn more about how cognitive IoT is transforming industry with this free ARC analyst report: Optimize Asset Performance with Industrial IoT and Analytics.

Questions or comments? Let us know in the space below!