THE 4TH REVOLUTION
In the past 7 years, the world of manufacturing has entered the next phase of its own evolution with a new set of guiding principles known as ‘Industry 4.0’ or the fourth industrial revolution. Just as the transitions from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age and to the Iron Age marked periods of radical, sweeping advances for the human species, Industry 4.0 marks the next, different epoch of production technology drastically. Manufacturing has become more intellectual in the process; engineers can focus on computer-aided design (CAD), and integrate new scientific methods and materials, confident that computerised systems will execute their designs with the required precision to make seemingly anything possible.
What could be next? German thought leaders dubbed the next step Industry 4.0, and since 2013 its guiding principles have been taking shape. Heavily connected to the concept of IoT (Internet of Things) the future will bring more and more machines that seem to think for themselves and communicate with each other, tracking physical movements via sensors and taking corrective action, and even predicting the need for maintenance.
The automation revolution of the past century used machines as obedient dummies, mindlessly executing a programme of simple commands in sequence, the next phase of automation will incorporate artificial intelligence, with machines that measure and analyse performance, synthesising data to observe trends and make recommendations.
Industry 4.0 is less about the future and more about a vibrant collaboration among IT, machine builders, industrial automation integrators and motion control suppliers. This last group is substantially important because their products function at the heart of the machines, simultaneously effecting motion, then gathering and transmitting the relevant data to the appropriate control link in the company’s infrastructure. With the recent, rapid expansion of application-specific integrated circuit capability, much more functionality can be built into a product today and this means the manufacturing community must be even more flexible and responsive, not merely reactive, than ever before.
A connected digital factory and the big data it generates provide manufacturers with the insight and agility required to compete. Digitalisation gives manufacturers the capability to increase productivity across their entire value chain, from design and engineering to production, sales and service, with integrated feedback throughout the process. The results are faster time-to-market, greater flexibility and higher availability of systems on the shop floor.
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