The world as we know it is dominated by smart technology, from the way apps on our smartphones monitor and report traffic to give us the easiest route home, to managing our personal and work diaries. By aligning this technology with all kinds of physical devices and equipment through the Internet and embedded sensor technology, we’re now creating “the Internet of Things” (IoT). This cyber-physical technology opens doors to a new way of life, including online physical spaces that adjust their environmental temperature, lighting and more based on sensory feedback from users – but what impact does this have on the manufacturing industry?
Smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 – A revolution on the horizon
The IoT is all about accessing new information that is actionable and useful in terms of increasing efficiency. While plant and enterprise software is opening this door, it’s cyber-physical technologies that are based in the IoT that actually hold the real potential for revolutionising the manufacturing industry.
But how would they achieve this revolution, known as Industry 4.0? Through visibility, not just at a batch level, but at the level of an individual unit. Being able to see each unit of product at each point in the production process means better information which can be easily accessed – and that means more informed decision-making at every level. It means virtual tracking of processes, resources, assets and products, it means bringing together every aspect of a business from conceptual design phases right through to the supply chain. It means having access to a decision-making environment that accurately reflects the daily, short-term and long-term functions and projections of an entire business – all in real time.
Embedded with specific sensors and connected through networks, manufacturing machinery, systems and technology can collect, organise and act on vital data in a real time environment. Not only does this allow faster, more accurate decision-making, it also ensures seamless transactions between systems and the ability to extend automation even further than before.
Although this technology is still in its early phase, some businesses are already positioning themselves as early adopters, including Siemens, General Electric and Harley-Davidson. A recent PwC survey has shown that 35% of U.S. manufacturers are utilising smart sensors to increase the performance of their manufacturing and operating processes, while 38% currently embed sensors in their products in order to collect customer and end-user generated data that can then be analysed to further improve the process. Consumers play a significant role in the IoT for manufacturers – not only is consumer satisfaction the ultimate goal, but the demand for IoT-capable products is anticipated to rise steeply as people seek to integrate the IoT in every aspect of their daily and working lives.
It’s early days yet, and Industry 4.0 carries significant implications for the manufacturing industry including security concerns and the reimagining of every line and division of business, but the potential for competitive growth and success – along with the negative potential of being left behind – cannot be ignored.
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