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Industry 4.0 carves promising road to smart manufacturing

Posted: 10 Jul 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Transworld Data  Internet of Things  supply chain  embedded system 

The combined need to produce ever-new products and features for an insatiable consumer market, as well as competitive price pressures, has spawned a culture of electronic devices that are continuously changing. This includes an accompanying manufacturing strategy that is constructed around planned obsolescence that replaces instead of repairs older products.

One reason that planned obsolescence and continuous inflows of next generation products occurs is that it takes companies more time to service and repair consumer electronics than it takes to simply replace them. Consumers, too, have been led to expect new versions of electronic appliances at breakneck rates.

Industry 4.0

Meeting this continuous demand for new products grows more complicated when you consider that most electronics companies have long and complex supply chains that touch nearly every continent on earth. These supply chains must be tightly orchestrated if products are to come together and make it to market. For electronics producers, the ability to automate manufacturing operations across continents, complete with automatic triggers and alerts that can enact immediate responses to production problems, is paramount. This auto-detection and operational intercession by electronic sensors and embedded systems is one of the hallmarks of the "new Internet factory."

Just what does this new Internet factory consist of?

The concept got a formal start in October, 2012, when Germany's Industry 4.0 working group presented a series of recommendations for smart manufacturing to the German government. Dubbed the "fourth industrial revolution," Industry 4.0 blends embedded systems and the Internet of Things into an intelligent and automated network that can run an intercontinental manufacturing operation.

The smart manufacturing that Industry 4.0 envisions is characterised by factory automation, widespread use of electronic sensors and embedded systems throughout the production process, and automated monitoring and decision-making, with an end goal of optimising production and logistics through electronics and automation.

A smart manufacturing environment such as this could: reduce incidence of human error by automating operations, and also contribute to a cleaner manufacturing environment by eliminating manual work; enable the factories of suppliers and sub-contractors around the world to interface with each other in manufacturing, potentially shifting production to other global locations if a primary production plant develops a problem; integrate with the supply chain in order to calibrate production activities with fluctuations in supply and demand; produce analytics reports and alerts about specific component failures for the engineering staff; and track activities in after sales warranty and service support to improve the visibility of products throughout their entire life cycles.

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