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industry 4.0 – the big picture

In the past weeks we talked a bit about industry 4.0, cyber physical systems, smart manufacturing which all are part of the fourth industrial revolution.

Generally speaking the “internet of things” will be created. Every machine, products and humans get connected. It still is a vision and experts think it will take the next 20 years to materialise. The following video is provided by SiemensTV. Siemens is showing their competitive advantage (and quite rightly so) but the video shows also the possibilities and the big picture behind industry 4.0.

If you have special questions about industry 4.0 feel free to post a comment and start a discussion.

cyber-physical systems

Today I’d like to continue to talk about the future of manufacturing. In recent blogs we described what industry 4.0 means and how smart factories work. In both articles I mentioned a lot technical expressions and talked about computer chips which are responsible for the workflow or the organisation of entire supply chains.

To make it all happen CYBER-PHYSICAL SYSTEMS (CPS) (wikipedia link) are running in the background. You can find IT systems in all areas of the production process already but now they will become far more connected. Cyber-physical systems are at the heart of it and steer the links between machines, warehouse space, transport ways, sub-systems, processes, internal and external objects. It’s all controlled in realtime and therefor highly efficient and flexible. Production processes can be changed at short notice and downtime can be avoided. Production orders can be changed at short notice and informations will be passed on to the entire supply chain immediately so that they can adjust their processes. As wonderful as it sounds CPS is very complex and I only recommend to integrate it step by step, sector by sector.

A second important ingredient for reliable cyber-physical systems are smart robots. Robots were the big change in the last industrial revolution. Their numbers have increased significantly and the use in European manufacturing has almost doubled in the past ten years. Experts think that robots will become intelligent and will be able to adapt, communicate and interact in future. Equipped with all sorts of chips and electronics you can clearly see their impact on industry 4.0 and the link to cyber-physical systems. Smart robots will replace humans in simple work areas such as production, logistics and handling documents.

Now before I will get lots of complaints about machines taking over human jobs I want to add this important point. Yes robots will take care of all sorts of transport through the factory in future. Yes, computer systems will make the decision on what to produce next in future. BUT humans are the most flexible resource any company / factory can have. Robots can be controlled remotely, if a problem occurs human workers will be informed via mobile devices, make decisions and give instructions to the machines. That means that 24/7 factories don’t need workers all the time. So the time for human night shifts could well be numbered. Humans will play a big part if robots fail. Humans will repair robots. Humans will (re-)program robots. I believe we still need the same amount of manufacturing workers. Instead of welding they will be mechatronic technicians, instead of forklift driving they will be logistics IT developers.

No night shifts and developing the newest robot gadget? Sounds alright to me.



smart manufacturing

In our previous blog about industry 4.0 we discussed smart factories. We got a couple of responses. Many of them where questions so we decided to bring a bit more light into the buzz word tunnel.

What are we having today?

Today many manufacturers produce very large quantities. Economies of scale are important is the key focus and they mainly produce what they think they can sell. If for example clothing’s are produced in China and they have a logistics problem the products might arrive in the UK at the wrong season. The companies can’t sell them anymore and so they end up in second and third markets.

The second and maybe even more important point is that all products get manufactured in straight production lines. They are very cost effective and predictable but they are not flexible. If any tool is broken the line stops, if material is late production stops, if workers are on strike…

smart manufacturing

RFID : NFC - mgcThe difference in a smart factory is that they just produce to order. Now you say all furniture nowadays gets made to order and thats why you have to wait for your new couch 8 weeks before it arrives. Yes you are right – and there comes the “smart” part of the manufacturing process into play.

Lets stay with the example of your couch. You by it online, click through the different types, choose your fabric, measurements, colour and provide delivery details. From now one everything in the factory could go completely automated. Because yo’ve created a  data record which could now be implemented on a computer chip (NFC / RFID / QPR) and put on you order. The order arrives at the factory and with the information on the chip they start to build the base frame. From now on the information on the chip guides the base frame through the factory. It goes to string the fabric, moves to despatch and packaging and finally arrives at your door.

The chip doesn’t only provide the order of production steps. Since it knows what’s next it could also calculate which work station (of course all obliged with a chip) will be the next one to be free. And if all products, machines and delivery systems talk to each other you can hold back one product if you could finish two others and send them away with the next transport and so on. Smart factories will lose the actual queuing systems. Everything will be calculated via complex algorithms. So if you buy your couch online one of the questions will be if you would pay extra for fast service. If  you do your couch would be speeding through production.


The topic is very complex and a lot of things have changed in the past two years. Please feel free to send us questions and we will answer them in the next blog.