The manufacturing process is evolving right before our very eyes. With every day that passes, manufacturing becomes more efficient and more dependent on artificial intelligence and advanced technology. Gone are the days where human labor is an essential part of the assembly line. But what are the trends that are shaping the future of manufacturing?
Previously, there were three eras of the manufacturing industry. The first era was built around steam-powered technology. The assembly line and mass production marked the beginning of the second era. Computers and the beginning of automation launched the manufacturing industry into the third era. Now, with the introduction of the smart factory, we are headed into the fourth era of industry.
There are four characteristics that an Industry 4.0 factory contains:
- Interoperability – A collection of machines and people that can communicate with each other
- Information Transparency – The systems inside of the factory create transform the physical world into a virtual copy through the use of sensor data
- Technical Assistance – The use of technology to support humans both through the communication of information and through the physical systems of the machinery
- Decentralized Decision Making – The ability of the systems to make decisions on their own without the help of a human
An entire factory that works on its own without the need of a human supervisor sounds like something straight out of a science-fiction movie, but Industry 4.0 brings that to reality.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is quite the interesting name for something as complex as the system it describes. The Internet of Things is a system of related machines, devices, and people that have the ability to transfer data without the need for any direct interaction involving humans. While the system itself is complex, it is not something you haven’t seen before, especially in the manufacturing industry. Things such as digital control systems, smart grid, and many safety measures are all examples of the Internet of Things in action.
The introduction of the Internet of Things to the manufacturing process is one of the keys to achieving the elusive Industry 4.0. Although it already exists in the industry, it has not achieved its max potential. The Internet of Things at its maximum potential will allow manufacturers to identify when equipment is weakening in real time, without the need of inspection. Although this may sound like a rather small victory, the ability to know when machinery is breaking down can greatly reduce operating and labor costs, while preventing downtime for unnecessary replacement.
Not having to worry about your equipment malfunctioning and endangering your employees and factory is a large weight lifted off of your shoulders.
Machine to machine, or M2M, is the direct communication of machines. Whether it be your personal life or work life, M2M technology is everywhere. Although it is already implemented in manufacturing, the advancement of M2M technology is essential to furthering the progress of the manufacturing industry.
Currently, M2M technology is used for maintenance, tracking, and development. We have the technology to identify when a part of a product is faulty before it ships out. We have the ability to identify the needs of the consumer after the product is in their hands. But what if we had the ability to identify a fault in any item without the need for inspection, or, even better, we had the chance to fix that item while it was still in production instead of throwing away a faulty product? The costs saved would be enormous.
M2M technology provides us a chance at obtaining that future. The current uses are fantastic, but the potential for M2M is amazing enough to forever transform the manufacturing process.