How Industry 4.0 will change production and drive innovation

22 August 2019 5 min. read

Industry 4.0 is the phrase of the hour in the manufacturing industry. The technology will drastically change production, and is set to spark a profound and multifaceted industrial structural change in the near future. Stephan Mang, an advisor at Pollen Consulting Group, reflects on how Industry 4.0 will help the evolution of the factory of the future and drive cooperative innovation. 

Digitisation, the link between machine and internet is an extremely important gamechanger. The previous separation between the “real” world of (production) machines and the “virtual” world of the internet is increasingly being erased. Digital and information technologies now permeate classic industrial production and manufacturing technologies. In the future, physical and digital worlds will integrate more and more and merge into complex cyber-physical systems. 

The next factory will be a human-friendly and robot-friendly factory. It becomes a place of knowledge and knowledge creation. That’s why the factory is evolving into a communication platform for operations. More and more developed automation increases flexibility and makes people sovereign players again. 

The high degree of automation of the factory of the future will mean humans will be even more supported by machines in production during monotonous or physically demanding activities. The requirements will shift more to the areas of control, planning, maintenance and process control – imagine a factory with no people inside and a NASA-like control centre. 

How Industry 4.0 will change production and drive innovation

The tasks of traditional knowledge and production work will grow closer together and offer new opportunities, but also require a lot of creativity and new qualification profiles. The factory becomes a place of learning, which shows the knowledge in its application and at the same time constantly questions it anew. The factory becomes a learning ground for employees and requires up-skilling of the workforce to work alongside the new technology. To reach this end-state will take time and is not expected to be a revolution as such but rather an evolution over time.

Flexible manufacturing technologies are bringing customer orders and production closer together. In addition to executing in-house work orders and procedures, increasing communication of the factory occurs outside. In the consumer goods sector, the hierarchical supply chains are replaced by global production networks, which need to be coordinated in a timely manner. The factory is going from a commander receiver to the place of cooperation with suppliers and customers. In addition to the classic goals of increasing productivity and minimising costs, flexible production and cooperative innovation occur. 

The next factory allows for smarter layouts and flows, a high degree of flexibility of the factory footprint for production facilities, including their adaptations and additions. Material streams are organised on mobile transport units. Movement that is repetitive and simple is where to look for the automation options. 

Robots are becoming cheaper and even more flexible in their applications. In addition, industrial robots acquire skills that have been developed so far for the service sector, such as those for communication, or for the automotive industry. Mobility is also increasing, allowing robots to accompany industrial champions and help them with serious and dangerous tasks. Robots are far more flexible because they can be reprogrammed and given a new purpose, whereas a case packer can only pack cases. 

As a strategic principle we should adopt an evolutionary process of change and can consider technological advances such as visuals and electronic notice boards, goggles where they overlay the machine for engineers on preventative maintenance tasks or for operators on set-up and change-over activities. Implementing radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags or smart labels to track materials and know where the next ingredients are is another example for digitisation. 

A more sustainable factory

The era of the air-polluting, noisy and energy-eating factory is a thing of the past. The next factory supplies itself. It is determined by the sustainable use of resources and energy. The use of wind power, solar energy, geothermal energy and the production of biomass are key: the factory is also a power plant, it feeds excess energy into the city network and functions as a buffer in high-energy times. These measures are complemented by closed cycles of water management. 

“Industry 4.0 will drastically change production, and is set to spark a profound and multifaceted industrial structural change in the near future.”
– Stephan Mang, Pollen Consulting Group

Mere waiting and doing nothing is not adequate; the acceptance of incumbent and/or wrong practices is also not conceivable. In many cases, the strengthening and revitalisation of the manufacturing base is the best response to unstoppable new technology and industry disruptors. As a matter of principle, we need more technology, not less, if we are to preserve the future viability of our manufacturing footprint in Australia. 

In the future, the comprehensive digitisation of production will enable all production-relevant factors (human production, machinery, workpieces, plants, suppliers and customers, products and logistics) to be actively involved in the production process and communicate with each other via smart grids. As a result, the internet takes on a new dimension, and industrial production without the use of the internet is no longer conceivable. The question of which side will be in the “lead” in this merger of the machine and the grid is far from settled. The change has only just begun.

This article was previously posted in the ‘It’s not a revolution – It’s evolution’ white paper from Pollen Consulting Group, an Australian consulting firm specialised in the fast moving consumer goods sector.