Steve Santerre and his team were commissioned to develop a weight controller more efficient than its predecessors.
The arrival of a 4th Industrial Revolution is not sudden; it has been unfolding little by little with every other revolution and evolution in between. Chances are you have heard of how buzzworthy topics such as the Internet of Things, data and “big data,” cybersecurity, autonomous machines, and cyber-physical systems, cloud computing and so on are converging into a new unit called the Smart Factory.
World business experts such as Klaus Schwab or John Roese are insisting that an actual revolution is happening and that it is not just the latest gadget that is not here to stay. But what is this gibberish anyway?
THE FUTURE IS NOW
When we hear Industrial Revolution, the first image that comes to mind is a dusty factory from 18th century England, with hundreds of workers doing the same action repeatedly. Even though this portrait seems far away, it’s quite a short amount of time that has passed since then; 300 years is barely anything in the great scale of things. Nonetheless, two other great revolutions have already taken place and shaken the way we perceive our world. It leaves us now on the path toward a new technological transformation and it’s unfolding at unprecedented velocity. These past revolutions happened because innovation was made available to a stagnant market and, at the same time, changed the way society works. But what is different this time around?
It’s a concept: The Whole, where everything and everyone is connected, and each component is linked digitally to one another. This formulation originated from a GTAI (Germany Trade and Invest) paper published in 2011 called “Industrie 4.0—Smart Manufacturing for the Future” written by William MacDougall. This fourth Industrial Revolution is taking the original idea behind the Internet, the infamous Web, and expanding it beyond the computer. It’s an industrial revolution where there are no more boundaries between physical objects, machines, software and the humans behind it all. Every element of the smart factory will be wirelessly interconnected to form an ecosystem; all the pieces of that ecosystem will be equipped with embedded systems (or CPS—cyber-physical systems) that will allow them to communicate with one another and create their own network.
THE GOAL: INTEGRATED & INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION
We are now looking at highly flexible, mass customization manufacturing that can be easily and rapidly adapted to the costumer’s personalized requirements and fluctuations in the market. “The time of manual, the time of hard labour, and the time of temporary help, if you will, companies are not going to survive with that. Companies need to be looking ahead to see how they can automate,” says Tim Hale, Maintenance Reliability Projects Manager at Lifeline Foods. The business decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon of smart automation last year as an initial step toward the smart factory, and they are beyond pleased with productivity improvements that have surpassed their expected return on investment. The next step will be to assess their performance and then to integrate new adapted digital solutions to achieve the goal of an intelligent plant.
Of course, this process requires a mindset change from executives as well as team members; they must be willing to change systems, working practices, equipment, and their understanding of the new factory and business model. But it does not have to happen all at once. Preparation is key in this process and getting ahead of the game with training and choosing a procurement strategy that will support you and your business through the change is equally as important for success. Access to an integrated 4.0 solution will need to be intensified and elevated; it needs to be taken into consideration when planning the shift, as dedicated and specialized team members might have to be added.
It is a good idea to make sure you select equipment that was designed to be retrofitted if necessary and that is able to grow with your business. There is not a lot of time to make this shift, and the big gap that will distinguish successful from unsuccessful businesses is approaching. For that matter, choosing partners that fully understand the process and the concept of Industry 4.0 will be a major advantage.
Innovative solutions for industries that need to adapt to the new flexible business model, like on-demand production, will be easily accessible. They will allow for increased control over production by reducing unplanned downtime. They will reduce unexpected maintenance costs and production crises by ensuring automated predictive maintenance: it will become standard for the IoT and the CPS to work together to let you know beforehand when an intervention is required on a piece of equipment.
Also, a fully automated system will not require as much manpower directly in the plant to run smoothly. Thus, it will offer better working conditions for staff members, as the hard-physical labour is handled by machines and robots: the 25-pound bag placed manually on a pallet 4000 times a day is an action of the past. By realigning your infrastructure with the fourth Industrial Revolution, your factory’s efficiency will automatically increase. Consequently, this newly conceived industrial ecosystem will allow businesses to reach novel markets.
At the end of the day, with embedded systems, IoT, M2M, data and all the automation brought by Industry 4.0, the operations of any factory will evolve and therefore enhance quality and production. Businesses are no longer only providing a product, no matter if it’s B2B or B2C, but are providing a service. To do so, they need to elevate their plants and factories on to a proactive level and offer a performance guaranty. The smart factory is here, whether we like it or not. It will be the businesses that are the most agile in embracing the change and view it as a new world of opportunities that will survive the shift. This impacts all industries, all production, everywhere in the world. It’s not so much a revolution per se, but a progression: to describe this new era in one word, it would be INTEGRATION.