This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows
Today, we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution, which has been driven by the evolution of new technologies like cloud, big data and the internet of things.
Over the next 10 to 20 years we will see future production facilities become much more modular and flexible. This will be made possible by miniaturised processors, storage units, sensors and transmitters that will be embedded in machines, products, tools and software to structure data flows.
These innovations will enable products to carry a digital memory from the beginning of the manufacturing stage and communicate with other products and machines throughout the production process. They will become cyber-physical systems that merge the real and virtual worlds to enable factories to control manufacturing processes more flexibly.
Cyber-physical systems will lead to the growth of the ‘light-blue collar worker’, who will inhabit a role between today’s manual labourers and knowledge workers. They will be connected with stakeholders on both sides of the production lifecycle in areas such as design feedback and consulting, supply chain optimisation and customer experience.
To develop the factory of the future, manufacturers will need to eliminate discontinuities in media and data transmission. This will enable them to make production operations cheaper, while achieving more rapid innovation cycles. Plus, the development of cyber-physical systems will combine with associated manufacturing processes to prompt a 30% increase in industrial productivity.
The production environment created by this interconnectivity will gradually expand beyond the machines on the factory floor to include a myriad of other systems. For example, data from an enterprise resource planning system will be able to be transferred to a manufacturing execution system by linking the management of materials logistics, personnel planning and cost calculations with production operation control.
In this connected world, product designers and manufacturers will have to become more agile to incorporate feedback, trends and data sources directly into the design process. This will allow them to react quickly to evolving customer demands.
Many of the technologies needed to develop smart factories and bring about the fourth industrial revolution already exist. These include the internet, standardised data connection protocols, simulation software and advanced collaboration portals. Manufacturers can prepare for Industry 4.0 by implementing the right machines, analytics, data, IT and communication systems, and making the connections that will bind these elements together.
Mirko Baecker is EMEA marketing director for Siemens PLM Software
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