What is Industry 4.0?
Let’s do a quick recap: what exactly is Industry 4.0? It is also known as the fourth industrial revolution, a new promised chapter in the history books.
Let’s start with a quick journey through history. British clergyman Edmund Cartwright is considered one of the pioneers of Industry 1.0. His power loom changed the world completely in 1784. Hydropower and mechanics made manual and labour intensive manufacturing processes quicker and more efficient. The second and third industrial revolutions then heralded mass production and the introduction of robots, respectively.
As a result of the equally radical development of the Internet of Things, more and more devices will begin working together in one single network. This is the case for your refrigerator and television, but also for your machinery. More data is collected and software is becoming increasingly smarter, which results in cyber-physical systems: intelligent collaboration between automation, information systems and production systems.
Industry 4.0 is clearly more than just a clever marketing term: the fourth industrial revolution has started and it is going to affect us all, both at home and in terms of the machines we use at work.
How will Industry 4.0 change your production?
When Edmund unleashed the first industrial revolution in 1809, the House of Commons recognised how much his invention had boosted the economy.
Industry 4.0 is now also being closely followed by policy makers, as demonstrated by a publication from the scientific council for government policy that was released at the end of 2015. This report is entitled ‘Mastering the Robot’ and discusses the socio-economic consequences of the dawning second machine age.
- Robots in manufacturing before Industry 4.0. Robots are nothing new in the manufacturing industry. However, from the 1970s to the 1990s industrial robots were only used to perform one and the same action for years on end. This meant that they could only be used for high volumes of identical products.
- Robots in manufacturing in the Industry 4.0 age. Today automation systems are much more flexible. Besides moving a wider range of products, value is also added by cleaning, deburring, turning around or clamping products, all with the same system.
Your Industry 4.0 machinery combines machines and automation in direct communication. They continuously report their status, whether this is relevant in the short term (“What am I currently producing?”) or the long term (“Which parts are showing wear and tear?”). This results in a highly streamlined, predictable and therefore more profitable manufacturing process.
Is Industry 4.0 a necessity?
The market need for flexible, linked technology is not an irrelevant yearning for gadgets. This became clear about five years ago in a strategic analysis of the manufacturing industry by Rabobank. The analysis concluded that efficient manufacturing alone with an emphasis on cost reduction offers few prospects in a globalising world where trade barriers are being lifted and the transport of parts is becoming ever more efficient.
“Advanced machines such as those owned by the small European machinists are now also operating in countries with emerging economies, where wages and taxes are considerably lower. Under certain circumstances, for example for small series for which fast delivery is important, there are still opportunities for suppliers in countries with high wages and taxes, but otherwise suppliers are at a disadvantage here in the worldwide battle for the lowest costs. A change of strategy is required. Besides lowering costs, increasing value is equally important.”
In other words, in the third industrial revolution, automation was mainly a way for manufacturing companies to reduce costs. With the dawn of Industry 4.0, the focus is shifting to innovations that allow small series, flexibility and added value.
Innovation is therefore key for the Dutch manufacturing industry in order to maintain its competitiveness.