What’s going on in Industry 4.0?
Factories of the future: what are they?
I went to Liverpool a couple of times this last past summer. Nothing to do with football or the Beatles, but rather the three-week long International Festival of Business that took place at the Exhibition Centre there. The meeting rooms being very hot and muggy notwithstanding, I found the events taking place at IFB 2016 very interesting.
One particular interest area for me is the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. The concept of Industry 4.0 as such is not a novelty, as it emerged in Germany in 2011. And many parts of what turned out to be in the scope of Industry 4.0 were also addressed in the European Commission’s Factories of the Future 2020 roadmap during the same time period. In this line of thinking the first industrial revolution was the one we read about in history books, namely, the emergence of steam power and mechanisation of some industries. Second industrial revolution was mass production, best remembered from the assembly lines in automotive plants. Third industrial revolution brought computers and automation in its wake. Now we are allegedly entering the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by cyber physical systems and mass-customisation.
Picture courtesy of Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com.
According to some sources, Industry 4.0 is already here. Siemens Congleton factory（south of Manchester, UK) producing variable speed drives is mentioned as a good example where the whole factory was digitised and modelled in virtual environment. Changes in employee ergonomics and tool locations can be modelled digitally before doing anything on the actual factory floor. This constitutes nothing less than ”The ability to realise a step changing business opportunity by utilising the digital, real-time representation of the connected physical production facility, supply chain or product”, which is one definition of Industry 4.0 by the High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute (HSSMI). On the other hand, SMEs are not as far along the Factories of the Future roadmap as the bigger enterprises.
In effect, Industry 4.0 would link manufacturing with product development, supply line management and customers. Today we are growing used to consumer driven digital innovation with disruptive business models as a consequence, e.g. Uber, Airbnb and some others. The question hovering around industrial processes is whether we can do similar thing in the production of tangible assets. Linking factory floor to management floor and to suppliers requires connectivity. The interlinked parts of the industrial process become a large network where copper, fibre and wireless connections are present. This brings us into the topic of IoT, specifically Industrial IoT in the case of Industry 4.0.
IoT in the overall picture
The variety of radio technologies used in industry is diverse, and the list I put together below likely does not include everything.
- Bluetooth (IEEE 802.15.1),
- WirelessHART, ISA100.11a, WIA-PA (IEEE 802.15.4)
- WSAN-FA (IEEE 802.15.1)
- WiFi versions (IEEE 802.11)
- cellular radio systems (GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, EUTRA – with all the LTE IoT flavours)
These would not be exactly similar to Bluetooth and WiFi implementations in your smartphone since they adopt IEC standards to make them more suitable for industrial needs. However, as quickly becomes clear from the list of radio technologies, they mostly are deployed on familiar licence-exempt bands such as 2.4 GHz ISM band. It is also clear that the actual radio interface is only a small part of a connectivity solution for manufacturing industry. There may be different legacy solutions in place, and machinery with no kind of connectivity as of today.
Reporting bits in itself is not going to make dramatic changes in the digitalisation of production floor if the data is not put into use. According to a chart in IDC’s Digital Universe study from 2014, the amount of (all) data worldwide that is useful if tagged and analysed grows from 22% in 2013 to 37% in 2020. The problem currently lies in the fact that only a couple of percent of this potentially useful data is either tagged or both tagged and analysed. So, for example in manufacturing industry, connecting sources of data (sensors, logging systems, human generated data etc) is not going to make much of a difference if it won’t be acted upon in some meaningful way.
Effectively, wireless connectivity is a bolt – albeit an important one – in a complete set of plumbing which connects a production facility to its internal processes and management, to external interfaces such as the supply chain and customers. In this overall context, Internet of Industrial Things is not only about bringing radio solutions to a building and plugging everything up. It is about how the connectivity solutions operate as a part of the bigger framework. In this overall framework, an industrial organisation must think of a variety of issues which are integrally related to digitisation and Industry 4.0, such as
- data that is being created: access rights, control, responsibility over it, any security aspects
- return on investment (is the smart manufacturing a right approach at current time)
- regulatory framework (e.g. free flow of data, broadband access and spectrum aspetcs)
- people (health and safety, are needed skills and talent in place?)
- standards & compatibility solutions
In the next several weeks and months I’ll look into these various aspects and welcome any comments and feedback to the blog series.