Since the discovery of simple machines and their possible applications in production, the focus has remained on making these machines more and more sophisticated to achieve automation for easier and quicker manufacturing processes. While earlier industrial revolutions were ushered in by mass production, automation and other new and improved processes, the invention of the internet and widespread applications of its use in the 21st century has given the fourth industrial revolution a different face from previous transformations. The development of AI, machine learning, cloud computing and the IoT has presented unprecedented angles to the face of manufacturing and promises to greatly change and expand the scope of the industry.
Growth and Development
Already, top manufacturers and companies are tapping into the wealth of opportunities offered by cyber manufacturing and implementing exciting new technologies into the production process. Because of this, the market value of these advancements is expected to grow to about $210bn from an estimated $70bn in 2019, at a CAGR of 17%. Some of the technologies that are expected to contribute to this growth include:
Blockchain: This refers to a shared database used to store pieces of data in blocks that are made accessible to all the systems in the network
Computer Vision: This is an area that seeks to apply automation to the same level of human understanding by equipping software with the ability to comprehend images and videos similarly to humans.
Predictive Analytics: This field consists of a collection of statistical and analytical methods for processing and reviewing large amounts of data for the purpose of discovering patterns and making forecasts of future events.
Deep learning: Deep learning seeks to harness the power of learning from training examples and equip machines and software with the ability to learn from previous events and remember those events for future applications.
Natural Language Processing: With future advancements, it is believed that computers can gain the ability to read and understand language the same way that humans do. This is expected to open new frontiers in how machines process instructions and respond to human commands.
Industry 4.0 in the Making
So far, these advancements are quickly becoming a priority for manufacturers to develop and integrate into the production systems. Manufacturers who hope to increase the quantity and improve the quality of production over their competitors must consider the vast array of possible areas where the different technologies powering industry 4.0 can be applied in their production chain:
Robotics: Since the mid 20th century, robots have featured in the production process and function on the assembly line in a range of duties that support human workers. Now, with the integration of advanced capabilities, robots can act beyond following set instructions. Robots can now collect and analyze data about their own performance which can be fed into systems to determine what areas of the production process are deficient and can be improved on. In addition, this information can contribute to predictive maintenance and cloud computing can be used to log in records reporting production levels.
Asset Tracking: Smart sensors have a potential to contribute to tracking products through production lines. Smart factories can then store this information on the blockchain. Such systems can be replicated on a larger scale to include supply chains and distributors.
Monitoring: Collecting all the data and analyzing it can become important for discovering insights that can be used to ensure that the best business practices are put in place for optimal production. By looking at its own performance and comparing it with market factors, a manufacturer can automatically configure automated equipment on how much product is required and necessary specifications.
Simulators: Using AI technology, multiple production models can be tried and tested without actually committing scarce resources to building multiple models. These virtual designs can be powered by augmented and mixed reality systems and fully tested by engineers and workers to determine viability.
To achieve a successful fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s important to consider several factors. One of these is the digital divide that may alienate less developed nations which regardless have abundant access to raw materials for production. In addition, it is important to maintain the presence of human staff as more technology is integrated into the manufacturing process. This will help to ensure high levels of accuracy and skill sets are maintained. In all, there is no doubt that these new technologies will change the face of manufacturing and improve production and trade immensely.