Smart Machines & Factories
The ultimate goal: A successful journey through Industry 4:0
Published:  13 March, 2019

By Martin Walder, VP Industry at Schneider Electric

Productivity levels across the UK have long been a source of debate for many businesses across the country. However, the route to improve and enhance productivity has changed dramatically in recent years and leaders need to acknowledge this to ensure their businesses do not suffer.

Competing in this ever globalised world is difficult. For manufacturers to improve productivity, they need to take into account the benefits of creativity and innovation. This means that something needs to change. We need a more efficient production line, we need higher quality products and ultimately, we need to ensure there is less wastage. By placing an increased emphasis on performance, the industrial world should see the technologies of Industry 4.0, including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), robotics and automation as great opportunities for their success.

Industry 4.0: more than just a buzzword

Industry 4.0 and digital transformation need to become more than just buzzwords, as organisations need to learn the importance of staying ahead for their Industry 4.0 journey. This is essential to ensure they do not lag behind their competitors.

The option of fully digitising a business offers great potential for manufacturers. Communicating seamlessly between devices, control systems and cloud data systems ensures that the most timely decisions can be made by the best people wherever they may reside. The combination of this and the use of analytics can help manufacturers optimise their production process significantly as they will have the chance of producing products faster and to a better quality, whilst also creating less waste.

When making the decision to purchase a new piece of equipment, its connectivity should always be taken into account. By making this decision at the start, manufacturers will be able to reap the long-term benefits from inception. The ultimate goal of becoming a smarter, more digitised factory lies in manufacturers taking every opportunity to embrace smarter, more connected technologies now.

For example, connected sensors are helping businesses significantly on their journey through Industry 4.0. This is particularly prevelant when it comes to the production process. Here, connected sensors are able to identify trends and issue various alerts prior to their failure. This will elongate the lifespan of equipment as it enables real-time maintenance, reducing the costly effect of wear-and-tear on key assets.

IIoT: The wider, more connected factory

There are a variety of examples where IIoT technologies are providing extensive benefits for businesses. One area where IIoT technology should be more widely used is in brown field sites. Businesses should start making use of this technology now and then later when the penetration of the technology and the experience is much greater - start thinking about the wider more connected Industry 4.0 factory.

The Food and Beverage industry can benefit greatly from IIoT and this has become evident in recent years. With the right inputs and control, the cleaning processes in the Food and Beverage industry can become automated. This will free up workers to focus on higher-value tasks that need more time and attention. Ultimately, allowing productivity and efficiency to increase.

Additionally, IIoT also makes more effective, online condition-based maintenance possible. Cloud based systems can be looking at the overall performance of every machine cycle and analytics can be running in the background to see if performance is deteriorating. This will allow focus on when it would be the best time to schedule remedial work at a time that least affects production. In a factory, equipment uptime is crucial to productivity. If machines break down, products cannot be produced and output slumps.

Automation and robotics

Moving forward, the Industry needs to consider the advantages of automation through the use of automaton and robotics, machine-learning and artificial intelligence. As it stands, there are only 71 robots in the UK per every 10,000 manufacturing employees, compared to over 300 in Germany.

Robots can really help to enhance productivity. With the ability to work 24-hours a day and produce a consistent output of produce – it really is a no brainer. This, alongside artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), will allow operational changes to be made at a much quicker rate.

Going forward

The journey to Industry 4.0 is by no means complete. There is still a lot more that manufacturers need to adopt to achieve better results for their business. A vital way of improving productivity and profitability is to consistently optimise processes with more connected and smarter technologies.

Only time will tell as to whether businesses will adopt the new technology that comes their way.