This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows. It is the third in a series of four articles covering Industry 4.0
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.
A manufacturing plant already has some of our five senses, plus some which we do not have – metal detection in foods, for instance. In principle we use these senses to ‘sense the state of the process’ and the control systems react in a closed-loop process. However, the data we receive from the senses could also be used to think. This is different from a closed loop-process. Thinking is when data is turned into valuable information and acted upon, even when there is a level of uncertainty.
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 the ATS Bus, 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.
To learn more, I hope you will be able to join one of my workshops. For more information please visit the MOM Institute web site.
Mike James is the chairman and CTO of ATS International
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