Flavors of Industry 4.0

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Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution at a high level consists of i) connected factories using sensors that are interoperable, ii) creating a copy of a system called a ‘digital twin’ with real time data feed from sensors merging the physical and virtual worlds, iii) analytics to convert data from the sensors into actionable insights and iv) autonomous decision making based on analytics and pre-defined rules.

It was widely reported in media on how GE realized that the Industrial IoT (IIoT) play is not horizontally scalable. IIoT and Industry 4.0 complement each other well. The realization for IIoT on scaling horizontally applies very well to Industry 4.0 too. It is not a single technology or software that can be installed and made to run from day one. It is not just the implementation of sensors to gather data. What is required is a long term holistic perspective on what business benefits Industry 4.0 can bring much before any implementation starts. Deep industry knowledge will be a must before embarking on the journey. The following are some examples as reported in media and what we can take away from each one.

The common benefits of Industry 4.0 implementation are productivity and transparency with real time information flow which enables quick decision making when backed by analytics – proactive if predictive models are used. These in turn enable better quality, cycle time and cost reduction. Beyond these common benefits, each industry will look for something unique to it depending on its characteristic products and processes.

Automotive is an industry that needs flexibility in manufacturing due to the diversity of its products and production runs – different mixes of products in each shift based on dynamic and ever changing market demand. According to CIO Vijay Sethi, Hero MotoCorp, “digital twins” were implemented for merging the physical and virtual worlds. Digital twins will act as a “reference for commissioning of all new manufacturing facilities and validation of new models from manufacturability aspects”. Design for manufacturability will be a key take away to validate before the shift starts for making each bike on time and not get delayed due to non-availability of capacity, tools, parts, humans or any other requirement. What-if scenario runs can be accomplished to identify and remove bottlenecks ensuring a smooth run.

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Heavy Engineering – GE’s Brilliant Factory targets at drastically reducing the “time to market” for new products and enhancements to the existing portfolio. The digital way of doing things – product design in collaboration with multiple teams, 3D Printing for rapid prototyping, robots for welding and inspection – these are some changes to accelerate the process. Operations are made safer and more productive with exoskeletons helping humans in the touch task of material handling. “The speed of change that I see, to me, defines this as a revolution — it is not just one change but a culture change” says GE’s Christine Furstoss, Global Technology Director.

Bottling plants – Throughput or the amount of units passing through the system, defect free, is a key metric for the fast moving and seasonal beverage industry. The implementation of automation has already increased it drastically inside the warehouses. Coca-Cola for example has taken it to the next level with the implementation of intralogistics in its plant in Malaysia, as reported in media. Industry 4.0 enables intralogistics with seamless flow of not just goods but more importantly the associated information at the right right time to the right place. Industry 4.0 helps in maximizing storage capacity, along with savings in power and water usage without compromising throughput or service levels.

Process manufacturing – Infosys reported the findings from a joint study with Aachen University on Industry 4.0 adoption in the asset intensive process based industry. Any stoppage in the operations will have a huge impact due to the nature of continuous manufacturing. Restart will be a costly, time consuming activity. The study covered asset efficiency under 4 dimensions – i) maintenance with preventive measures, ii) operational with real time data and optimization, iii) information for interoperability, and iv) energy. According to the authors, Industry 4.0 can be the tool to get the right combination of technology and processes to contribute to better efficiency, a key metric in this sector and eventually making it a competitive advantage.

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Food industry – Traceablity is a key requirement for both regulatory requirements and for increased shelf life of the products from the time they are shipped. Traceability will help in case of any product recalls to understand under what conditions each batch was produced. Safety and cleanability are important in the food industry directly consumed by consumers with high expectations on nutritional aspects and quality. Flexibility matching fast changing market demand will also be important for quick change overs.

Connectivity of all equipment from a light bulb to the bottle neck machine tool will eventually happen. It will become a basic requirement. Standard analytical models such as trending and forecasting will be adopted along with visualization. Digital twins are also becoming affordable. What is key is domain expertise to make use of these tools and technologies for better decision making – predicting a nasty situation that would not have been possible without Industry 4.0 and taking steps to prevent it from happening.

Even within one enterprise, there is diversity within a factory or across factories when it comes to the vendor, the control system, tools and applications used, processes followed etc., Therefore, when we think of replicating Industry 4.0 across multiple enterprises in an industry, horizontal scaling will definitely be a challenge. High levels of customization will be required for the proof-of-concepts and pilots to scale up vertically within each industry and enterprise. Those who understand the convergence of business needs and the technology will reap the benefits of Industry 4.0 adoption. “Simplify before you automate” is a clichéd statement. But it will be appropriate here to keep the total cost of Industry 4.0 implementation under control. Businesses will have to standardize and simplify processes across factories before any implementation.

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