Four facts about Industry 4.0

Ian Millington, manging director of adi Automation, part of the adi Group of companies, lists four facts about Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 is the term on everyone’s lips. Coined as the ‘next industrial revolution’, at its core it represents the automation of industrial processes, connectivity between industrial equipment, and ongoing data capture and visualisation. When implemented effectively, it allows companies to make the right decisions for their business and allows companies to create smoother processes.

With all the buzz around this phenomenon, it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction. So, here are four key points about Industry 4.0:

1. It’s about disruption, not destruction

Much of the ‘fear factor’ around Industry 4.0 is caused by the misconception that it will result in mass unemployment. Mainstream media is partly responsible for this, as scaremongering headlines about how ‘robots are taking our jobs’ appear all too often. The reality is if businesses invest in training programmes and staff show a willingness to embrace change, Industry 4.0 is likely to be a net creator of jobs.

Rather than destroying employment, digitisation has the capability to enhance it. Take the use of mobile devices for viewing machine data, for example. Certain apps allow plant operators to access essential trend and diagnostic data and collaborate with colleagues directly from the plant floor. This increases productivity and makes it easier to troubleshoot.

2. Connectivity is key

Companies must find a way to get every machine talking to the corporate network, and to do so securely, using standardised-communication protocols. To do this, it is vital to understand your current system architecture. For example, which pieces of equipment need to talk to each other? Are there legacy products which need to be incorporated or modernised for the system to work?

It is advisable to set goals as this will facilitate the most useful system set-up and collection of relevant data. Common targets include reducing the cost of production, streamlining energy usage and minimising downtime.

3. There is still some way to go…

A connected cyber-system must be thought out carefully before implementation. If businesses want to reap maximum benefits from Industry 4.0, they must be prepared to overcome some significant challenges such as cybersecurity, as more than 200,000 malware programs are launched per day. However, companies should not be afraid of it as there are a multitude of avenues to help mitigate the risk. This includes separation of IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) systems, as well as setting up robust security protocols and access permissions to certain persons, who can only access data that is necessary for their job role.

4. …but not taking any action is the biggest risk

With some way to go until the UK catches up with the likes of Germany and other early adopters, it can be tempting for businesses to sit back and wait for others to make the first move. However, we are witnessing an increasing need for data amongst our customers in all sectors. This is because they are taking on increasingly complex projects and challenges which all require accurate, valid data and visualisation tools to achieve.

By neglecting the benefits of Industry 4.0, your business could be missing out on productivity gains, cost savings and streamlined processes. Let’s make 2018 the year that UK manufacturers take that leap into the next industrial revolution.