Technology hypes are often followed by the trough of disillusionment. But it is sometimes only during these points of uncertainty that we can reflect and get realistic about what we can actually achieve. When it comes to the fourth Industrial Revolution, taking a step-by-step approach seems the most sensible way of making it a reality.
Part of this sounds familiar does it not? Programmable logic controllers, distributed control systems, embedded control and supervisory control and data acquisition systems have been acting in closed-loop systems for years. The next step, though, is turning all of this small data into big data. We want to mash it with information from manufacturing and business systems like manufacturing execution systems and enterprise resource planning.
By combining all of this information we can create extra senses that help us to automate decisions and answer questions such as ‘what shall we produce next?’ The idea is that the systems eventually become predictive and self-learning as increasingly complex decisions are taken.
Other next steps towards achieving Industry 4.0 include developing intelligent networks like automated driving, which will decide where and when data is used. Don’t forget that introducing vision, identification, positioning and location systems will inherently increase our ability to sense and make intelligent decisions.
It’s important to not only build the foundations for Industry 4.0 but to also make sure there is a return on investment every step of the way. Manageable sized projects will help to make investments effective. For instance, add a robotic vision system to the process and this will not only improve quality but it will also provide valuable data. Other steps include adding new materials, manufacturing techniques and methods such as 3D printing, but make sure that each investment is part of an overall roadmap.
For modern education about these topics, visit MESA.org for their Global Education Program and MOMi for their series on the 4th Industrial Revolution.