In Germany, the term ‘Industry 4.0’ means no less than the future of manufacturing and a new version of the industrial revolution. To put this in more tangible terms, it refers to the future of production environments, networked factories, and smart products and machinery.
While government, manufacturers and researchers are working together on exploring and shaping this development, there are a number of forces which are driving it.
The first is the increasing sophistication of virtual reality and modelling in the production environment which is having a profound impact on real world production.
Next, the so-called shift to ‘big data’ has meant that it is now possible to evaluate and/or simulate data on a scale that was previously impossible. It has also made possible new types of sensors and measurement technology which can be integrated directly into manufactured systems. Linked to this, is ‘digitalisation’ which will play a role in ‘data driven’ manufacturing.
In this vision of the world, not only the production systems, but also the products, designers, sensors and measuring technologies will be networked and in constant communication. This will drive faster and more efficient production, as well as more efficient running, monitoring and updating of manufactured systems in their working environment.
As systems of communication merge and become increasingly autonomous it is also envisaged that future factories will be self-organising. While this is a challenging thought, the experience of some German factories over the past 20 years has shown that with the same working space and almost the same number of employees, some factories have been able to increase production volumes by eight times. Ultimately, this is a story of more productive people and more productive machines.
Photo credit: “www.colourbox.com”. Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from Siemens Innovation.