Industry 4.0 is a term you will hear a lot of without much context. Industry 4.0 is the name that’s been given to describe the the 4th industrial revolution that’s taking  place around data driven technology and as such the ‘.0’ has been added for dramatic effect. Like previous industrial revolutions, it will disrupt every business model across manufacturing and failure to adopt could threaten the future of your business.

Industry 4.0 creates a smart factory, where you optimise your production capability through technology, data and sensors. You allow machines to use the data they are receiving and make adjustments in real time to drive efficiencies at every stage. This drives cost savings which provide you with a platform to compete in the global marketplace. It builds on the development of the previous industrial revolutions, as key to this is having an automated production process.

To embrace industry 4.0 you need to apply 3 key technologies.

1.     Internet of Things (IoT)

To facilitate real time decision making you need to have real time information. This is generally achieved by a number of devices and sensors throughout your production process and connecting these to the cloud. This is a trend that is growing heavily with a 30% increase in the number of things connected to the internet in 2017.¹

Understanding what you want to measure and why is the first step, followed by looking at the range of different devices and sensors available and selecting the right ones for you. You then have to decide where you are going to put all of this information. Microsoft offers an Azure IoT service which allows you to connect, aggregate and analyse data for insights that help you increase the performance of your entire factory floor.

2.     Cloud

Cloud is probably the single defining technology that makes industry 4.0 possible as as it gives you the ability to store and process all of this new data in an affordable way.

By connecting all of your new sensors and monitoring devices you are creating a large stream of data and you need the ability to store and process this. This would generally be more than an on-premise solution could handle.

There are several options that enable you to pull all of this together in the cloud. You could use a cloud based ERP solution like Microsoft Dynamics for Finance and Operations. This allows you, via Azure, to connect the sensors and devices directly with your Dynamics solution. You could also look at using infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and running a custom solution.

Effectively what you are trying to do here is create a virtual version of your manufacturing process in the cloud, which will give you the ability to identify areas of improvement.

3.     Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the key that unlocks the hidden value in your data. Now you have your devices connected to the cloud you have a steady stream of data from all across your organisation.  But what do you do with it?  You can train artificial intelligence systems to analyse your data and identify areas of improvement.  Again you can access AI via systems like Dynamics but you can also access it directly via cloud services such as Azure. The great thing about AI is that it goes beyond identifying areas of improvements.  When applied correctly it can then go on to make the improvements in areas which have often been missed in the past.

AI can be applied to deliver a range of benefits including:

  • Improvements in supply chain management. You can identify the best suppliers to meet your needs by analysing data on wastage, quality, reliability and timescales. You can also make sure you are never waiting on stock.
  • Reducing down time when a production machine breaks. Typically, you need to call someone to come fix it and this can take time. Using the above approach with sensors and AI you can identify early warning signs or even predict the fault before it happens, allowing you to get an engineer on site and minimise down time.
  • Better resource allocation. You can optimise which of your machines and employees you apply to each job to provide you the best application of time and cost across your production.
  • Empowering employees. With all this accessible information you can give employees across the organisation more information, from order tracking to more accurate resource allocation to knowledge banks for engineers and customer service.

Theses are the core technologies that are driving industry 4.0, and when applied properly you will see increased levels of automation, agility and efficiency.

Manufacturers now need to be more than just efficient to complete in the global marketplace, they need to be agile. They need the ability to detect and change based on customer demand. This is going even further than expected with the servitisation of everything. This means manufacturers are having to develop services and solutions that supplement their traditional product offerings, from warranties and servicing to digital capability and management information (MI).

With the continued development and accessibility of technology we expect almost every manufacturing industry to be disrupted in the next few years and the winners will be the ones that embrace the technology.

From both a strategic and technological perspective, creating a roadmap for your organisation to meet industry 4.0 is critical in moving your organisation towards a digital enterprise. Industry 4.0 is driven by digital transformation and how you incorporate the latest trends  and deal with the culture challenges will be key for the success of your digital transformation journey.