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The Fourth Revolution of industrial manufacturing has set its foot in our current life on the global scale. Before discovering the 4th revolution, let’s quickly look back on the previous revolutions. Thanks to the invention of steam engine, the First Revolution was known as the era of mechanization; while electric-powered assembly line and mass production solely performed in the second ones. Then the Third Revolution brought automation and information technology into factories. And now, what is new in the fourth? The Industry 4.0 hopefully is able to deliver these latest technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data and Internet of Things.
Throwing back to 2013 when the term “Industrie 4.0” was firstly mentioned in a project of high-tech strategy of Germany, this plan aimed to computerize the manufacturing industry with much less even without involvement of human. As Hinks (2015) mentions, Germany then has invested about €200 million on this research across academia, business and government. While in the US, manufacturers, suppliers, technology firms, government agencies, universities and laboratories have collaborated with the common goal to construct an open and smart manufacturing platform for industrial-networked information applications. This platform ambitiously allows manufacturing firms of all sizes to access and utilize modeling and analytical technologies that can be customised to meet their needs.
What are mainstreams in the Fourth Revolution?
Full digitalization is indicated as the heart of Industry 4.0, which means that the process from design to manufacturing will ultimately reach to the stage of full automation. A German sportswear giant – Adidas – should be taken as a typical example. Imaginably, that Adidas just needs about dozen of human workers in its new fully automated factory mainly for supervising systems because shoes here are made solely by robots. Not only does Adidas cut off the involvement of human, but also has applied 3D printing technology as well as other revolutionary production technologies aiming to replace machine tools. It is explained that 3D printing devices are efficiently and effectively used to make highly tailored soles exactly fitting to specific dimensions; while regular machines take few weeks to configure and prepare only. It is also reported that 3D printing helps to make items that are impossible to complete with traditional methods. Many companies have also utilized 3D printing technology for making models, prototypes or experimenting. This technology is predicted to be more popular and even affordable, especially for small and medium sized players.
Data is the lifeblood of manufacturing digitalization; hence, big data and cloud computing will play essential role in any activities of manufacturing industry from predicting, planning, detecting issues and making decisions. Although the amount of data generated throughout manufacturing processes – from product development to post-sales service – is really potential and valuable, most of organizations are not capable to fully utilize such data volume to generate beneficial outcomes. In order to provide useful insights to the factory management, data must be processed with advanced tools to generate correct and meaningful information. Thus, the role of big data analytics has become more and more crucial in the Fourth Revolution. A system with big data analytics should consist of these following 6Cs to help firms to achieve the ultimate goals.
- Connection (sensor and networks)
- Cloud (computing and data on demand)
- Cyber (model & memory)
- Content/ context (meaning and correlation)
- Community (sharing & collaboration)
- Customization (personalization and value)
Challenges and Impact of Industry 4.0
“Smart Factory” is the term introduced in the Fourth Revolution and Marr (2016) explains that smart factory is where cyber-physical systems monitor the physical processes and make decentralized decisions. Thus, he states that the physical systems now become Internet of Things, communicating and cooperating with each other and humans in real time through wireless networks. Consequently, Marr claims a factory or system in Industry 4.0 needs to meet these following characteristics:
- Interoperability — machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with one another.
- Information transparency — the systems create a virtual copy of the physical world through sensor data in order to contextualize information.
- Technical assistance — both the ability of the systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems and the ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe for humans.
- Decentralized decision making — the ability of cyber-physical systems to make simple decisions on their own and become as autonomous as possible.
Albeit potential and beneficial, Industry 4.0 has created challenges for manufacturing industry.
- Data security obviously becomes a critical issue due to integration of new systems and higher frequency of access to those systems. Furthermore, proprietary production knowledge is now turning to IT security.
- Manufacturing firms have found out that it is difficult to achieve and maintain a high degree of reliability and stability needed for critical machine-to-machine communication (M2M) requiring short and stable latency times.
- Need to maintain the integrity of production processes with less human oversight.
- Technical problems definitely can cause expensive production outages.
- Loss many jobs is a big concern even for the society when new generations of automation are released.