Industry 4.0 is a popular term these days, popularized and precisely defined by a German economist, Klaus Martin Schwab during World Economic Forum. Although many other buzzwords are far from the real applications, the 4th industrial revolution is right here and right now: in front of our eyes. And it is not something new: new technologies, creation, and the development of the internet cloud-based services or internet of things (IoT) are impacting our everyday life. But what does that mean for the average person and what are the industry 4.0 examples?
What is Industry 4.0 and what types of technology it includes?
Industry 4.0 (also called the 4th industrial revolution) can be defined as a technological shift that has a significant impact on peoples' life, industry, and the overall structure of society at the beginning of the 21st century. The effect of that change is the appearance of new solutions that help to perform daily tasks, on top of the multiplication and augmentation of reality. All of these changes allow better utilization of resources, faster data processing, and finally – have a significant and positive impact on our reality and the quality of life.
The fourth industrial revolution would not be possible without the creation and development of the internet, AI algorithms, machine learning, robotics, and a better understanding of the human genome. Such knowledge allows the automatization of many processes, simplification of work in manufacturing plants, and decreases the amount of human participation in the processes. For example, – numerically controlled machines can produce higher quantities of parts in a shorter time than hand-lead devices. Of course: that does not mean humans are expendable – their knowledge needs to be different, just like their competencies and skills.
Such an approach to Industry 4.0 is best visible in the AI-enhanced CAD (computer-assisted design) – partially autonomous algorithms can speed up work and take a weight of less important but time-consuming actions. Such reality can sound like taken from sci-fi novels (eg. "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson), but in fact: is it our reality. That 'computerized' shift is visible the most in the manufacturing processes – an introduction of CNC machining to speed up production while maintaining the tightest tolerances (like in RADMOT, a professional CNC machining plant).
The main ideas of Industry 4.0 are:
- interconnection between devices – allows communication of the machines, drivers, etc. thanks to well-designed software. That allows 'cooperation' between devices and more efficient interaction with a human. Such an approach also has a strong emphasis on interhuman communication,
- information transparency – and access to big clusters of structured information allow more data-driven (and right) decisions that help to identify problems in advance and seek solutions on almost every stage of work. Such an approach is crucial in industries like automotive,
- technological support – created with the end users in mind (the operators of the device) that help in daily tasks, decision-making, and process optimization,
- decision decentralization – that increases self-reliance of devices that can make automatised decisions, based on the incoming data. Such synergy decreases the risk of smaller and bigger errors in the systems. For example – a CNC machine controller can decide to optimize the work parameters of a spindle based on the data from the sensors placed in the area of the milling table and the spindle itself. What is most important – such tweaks and adjustments can be made without any human operator intervention.
Although all of the above can sound odd and sci-fi-ish, such self-optimizing systems are working in many plants today. Technologies like lane assistants in cars, algorithms in 3D printers, or automated baking programs in electric ovens are perfect examples of simple solutions that are based on the achievements of Industry 4.0.
On the other hand, we can see even more innovative solutions like autonomous cars, intelligent prosthetics, more efficient connections between man and machine, robotized assembly lines, or smart – homes, cities, and production plants. And many, many more.
To put the 4th industrial revolution in perspective, it is worth mentioning 3 previous:
1. The first industrial revolution, also called 'a steam age'
At the foundation of that lies the invention of the mechanical weaving loom, (at the end of the 18th century). On the one hand, it allowed to increase production of fabrics but; on the other – was one of the first solutions to automatize manufacturing processes by utilization of steam-powered machines.
2. The second industrial revolution
Also called 'the edge of electricity' – took place between the 19th and 20th centuries. The milestone was a development of a production line conception and utilization of electrical energy to power machines.
3. The third industrial revolution
Also called 'a computer age' – from the 70s to this day. The most crucial element of that change were microcomputers and logical circuits that allowed to automatize production processes and many more,
4. The fourth industrial revolution
Is something we can observe with our own eyes.
The shift presented by Industry 4.0 is so significant, many companies build their products around it and implement solutions that are focused on project optimization. Sometimes it is called digital devolution because the most important things related to production are not on the factory floor and real world but in digital technology. Cloud computing, predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence algorithms, or tools to optimize supply chains (based on gigantic amounts of data, analyzed automatically) – these are only a few among a long list of technologies that are the foundation of that shift.
How does the Industry 4.0 transformation shape the production process?
One is for sure: process automatization allows:
- faster and more precise production,
- decrease of the final product cost,
- increase the availability of many products and services, that even recently were considered luxurious.
For example, the decrease in cost production for airplane industries (less expensive parts and overall maintenance) made cheap airlines possible and available. Lower cost of microchip production – due to process automatization – lead to better longevity and finally: to a real decrease in the final product price.
The impact of that digital transformation is perfectly visible in the example of computer numerically controlled devices. Hand-manufacturing 1000 parts with an automatic lathe (hand-lead) is time-consuming and expensive. That makes the unit cost very high which affects the increase of a final product.
In addition – the tolerances of parts manufactured in such a way are less than perfect and that also can impact its longevity. The CNC machining automatization allows drastically decrease tolerances and – from some point – even the final price.
Although that technology sits between 3rd (logic circles utilization) and 4th (high 'controller independence'), they remain crucial for today's and tomorrow's manufacturing and remain at the forefront of change and the digital revolution. The introduction of numerically controlled devices decreases the need to monitor every step in the manufacturing process by humans. Also decreased possibility of errors due to smart sensors and algorithms focused on identification of problems beforehand. The most important industry 4.0 technologies are:
- 3D printing – a perfect example of additive manufacturing, that allows the production of elements from polymers or metals,
- smart sensors – that gather information to analyze by AI algorithms that allow…
- predictive maintenance – that helps to identify potential problems and create solutions beforehand,
- increase food access and crop optimization – the problem of hunger in the world is still one of the most burning ones. Solutions introduced by Industry 4.0 can be one of the most important tools to make it disappear (due to big data analyses).
Disadvantages and fears related to Industry 4.0
The biggest fear related to the fourth industrial revolution is the marginalization of men in the manufacturing process and workplace reduction. At first glance – that is possible, but further analysis of the subject (based on in-depth studies) shows the opposite.
To put it into perspective, such fears were common during the previous (third) industrial
revolution. The fourth one – just like all the previous – changes the fiber of society and creates so-called 'new professions'. In the 50s and 60s of the last century, there were no occupations such as CNC mill operators. The reason was simple: numerically controlled machines were not invented – yet.
Of course – such a revolutionary shift puts pressure on people to develop new skills, and such change can make people anxious. At the same time provides many possibilities and just like previously – can improve quality of life, and create new professions in new industries.
Sometimes dystopian visions of the future can make people more afraid of the future – just like in the Terminator franchise which shows a possibility of the machine revolt or decrease in the meaning of men. Such ideas – although entertaining – often help to understand core values and changes provided by the 4th industrial revolution. A better economy, new professions, easier production (of goods and food), or better predictive maintenance can change life for the better. In a way that was not possible 20 or 30 years ago.
State-of-the-art machinery, continuous development and improvement, and a passion for technology - sounds like a good plan for a partnership?
At RADMOT, we can offer CNC milling services, CNC turning services as well as many additional services, including washing, aluminum anodizing, laser marking and assembly.
Contact us and tell us what you need. We have been providing CNC services for 40 years. Our quote is completely free. And if you are in doubt about which technology will work best for you, we are able to advise customers from many industries on machining and quickly determine the price of machining the parts you order - our expertise is at your disposal.