30 Sep 2021

Industry 4.0 and the Case for Digital Maturity

The next industrial revolution will need digitization of manufacturing processes. Mobile devices are crucial to executing transformation in the age of Industry 4.0.

Several heavy-hitting key performance indicators in manufacturing have traditionally been a struggle to digitize. One such perennial issue is how to do away with decreased downtime and improve worker productivity. Industry 4.0, the latest iteration of the Industrial Revolution, promises to reboot the game for both discrete and process manufacturers. With data as its primary currency, Industry 4.0 delivers a “smart” factory that is not just efficient but also self-correcting and self-optimized.

Mobile devices on edge play a critical role in this new data-driven manufacturing environment. They are the central access point for all data-driven decisions. In addition, their rugged and easily portable form make them reliable workhorses on the smart factory plant floor.

The promise of Industry 4.0

Traditional automation has undeniably delivered efficiencies in manufacturing. But too often, it’s a case of a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut. Today’s manufacturing needs a more precisely calibrated approach, one where data is the primary currency.

Industry 4.0 takes automation up a notch. Traditionally, operational technology governs physical machines and other assets on the plant floor. On the other hand, information technology governs computer functions along parallel paths. But the advent of Industry 4.0 has them converging. The near-complete digitization of every aspect of the manufacturing process allows for a physical-digital-physical system. Data harvested from the physical world of machines feed into digital algorithms. This produces insights users can act upon in the physical world.

To do so effectively, physical machines on the plant floor must be seamlessly integrated into the analytics process. Workers must also harvest data from these assets in real-time. While working with machine data has always been a part of manufacturing, the analysis has traditionally been conducted in hindsight. Insights from daily production numbers formerly told us how to fix tomorrow, not today.

Industry 4.0 turns this model on its head by delivering proactive and transparent manufacturing processes that can affect change in real-time. The “smarts” of a smart factory involve more than harvesting volumes of data.

It’s also about:

  • – centralizing the data
  • – analyzing the data in real-time
  • – acting on the insights from the analysis

Mobile and edge devices play an essential role in this dance. They act as gatekeepers, making data easily accessible on the plant floor and wherever else workers might need them on the go. Mobile devices bring the data to the worker instead of the other way around.

The end goal of Industry 4.0 is a completely smart factory that pretty much runs itself by acting on data and with minimal human intervention. Such a factory could:

  • – pick up work orders
  • – feed component raw goods into machines for production, perhaps with the help of cobots
  • – pack goods for transport to the warehouse
  • – receive inventory from vendors when amounts are running low
  • – give the end customer a window into the process and individual orders
The next industrial revolution will need digitization of manufacturing processes.

How Industry 4.0 and mobile devices deliver

The most significant advantage of Industry 4.0 is that companies can purchase just as much digitization as they can afford. Incremental positive changes add up quickly. Even manufacturers with legacy machines can adapt to the digital maturity curve and register gains rapidly.

Here are a few ways Industry 4.0 can deliver through edge devices.

It can help improve worker productivity

Workers can use mobile devices to attend to administrative work. These can be tasks such as clocking hourly sheets and signing off on tasks completed for the day. Pen-and-paper processes lead to an inaccurate real-time view of production processes. Accessing the company’s manufacturing execution system (MES) through the digital device allows for real-time updates and the centralization of all information. This action can get everyone is working on the same page.

Equally important, workers can access data about all plants wherever their location. Unbounded by geography, plant managers and workers have a more holistic view of the manufacturing process. They can also fine-tune actions depending on the KPIs they need to achieve.

It can decrease machine downtime

The traditional run-to-fail model in manufacturing worked by running the machines until there was a problem. Problems had the potential to be catastrophic. Lines could be down for a long time while experts were called in to troubleshoot. Alternately proactive maintenance replaced machine parts after specified periods, whether or not they showed signs of wear and tear.

These approaches are inherently wasteful. It ties up liquid capital in parts where replacements are not needed and hold up production lines needlessly.

Industry 4.0 uses a different approach. It hinges on continually reading the health of the machines on the production line. Sensors attached to assets can warn operators of trouble well before the machines fail. These can be done when these sensors evaluate the vibration and temperature of devices. Machine learning algorithms analyze asset parameters recorded over time to see what failure looks like. By reading current parameters, they can detect when trouble is imminent and be programmed to trigger an alarm accordingly. Workers receive alerts on their devices and can attend to machines only when they need to.

Industry 4.0 enable predictive maintenance, squeezing the most out of machines and optimizing performance. When alerted, workers can use mobile devices to pull up manuals. They can also use augmented reality applications to overlay actual diagrams of parts against what they see on the floor. They can also call remote experts to troubleshoot more complex pieces of equipment this way.

Taking it forward

Seamless inventory management, quality control, warehouse management, worker health, and safety improve under Industry 4.0. The key for OEMs is to start on the path to digital maturity if they haven’t done so already. Bringing in mobile devices is low-hanging fruit that can help at every stage of the process.

The Industry 4.0 market is expected to hit USD 260.71 billion by 2026. The time is now for manufacturers of all fields to start their digital transformation journey and embrace the promise of smart manufacturing.

Ken Teese is Director of Sales at Getac. He leads a team of sales professionals serving enterprise-class companies focused on Natural Resources, Oil & Gas, Transportation and Logistics, Industrial Manufacturing, Healthcare, and Automotive markets in North America.

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