Industry 4.0 is a concept that is increasingly used to describe the technological transformations that the industrial sector is undergoing and will continue to undergo. This notion, although it designates very concrete evolutions, still remains vague for many people, including industry professionals.
In this article we will help you understand the meaning of Industry 4.0 and the concrete benefits you can achieve in terms of productivity, cost reduction, performance and production quality.
What is Industry 4.0?
Definition of Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 has been defined as the cyber-physical transformation of manufacturing. The term “4.0” comes from the fact that this evolution is considered the fourth industrial revolution, after those of mechanization (1), oil and electrification (2), and automation, computers and electronics (3).
Also known as the industry of the future, Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the way products are manufactured, improved and distributed, through the introduction of new technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), cloud computing or AI (artificial intelligence).
What are the applications of Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 applications are numerous and vary greatly in complexity and cost:
- Eliminate paper documents: By going all-digital for all document management, companies can save money and time, significantly reduce errors due to poor information transmission and reduce their environmental footprint;
- Control machines and equipment in real time: thanks to connected sensors, it is now possible to monitor production in real time and collect data to spot problems faster, prevent breakdowns and make better decisions;
- Optimize processes: new analysis software is used to improve production processes in order to use the full potential of industrial assets;
- Use 3D printing: increasingly accessible, 3D printing makes it possible to quickly produce prototypes or to manufacture highly customized products to meet customers’ needs;
- Facilitate flows and exchanges: many applications facilitate exchanges between economic partners, for example by giving access to industrial suppliers or service providers corresponding to companies’ needs.
While some applications require advanced skills and substantial investments, others, such as a mobile CMMS for example, can be easily and inexpensively implemented.
Industry 4.0 technologies
Cloud computing is an essential part of any Industry 4.0 strategy. Indeed, the cloud makes it possible to store and analyze the vast amount of data needed to implement this strategy through the integration of different aspects of any industrial activity (engineering, procurement, production, sales and distribution …). Cloud computing is also a cost-saving factor, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, which can adapt their resources to their needs over time.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is a technology with great potential for industry and one of the keys to the future smart factory. Machines are equipped with sensors that have an IP address, which allows them to connect via the Internet to other devices such as a CMMS or ERP. It is then possible to monitor the operation of a machine in real time, and to collect a large amount of accurate data. The analysis of this data is a valuable tool to improve the productivity of a plant, for example by reducing the frequency of production stops.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Using machine learning, artificial intelligence is one of the tools available to companies to exploit the full potential of the data collected in the factory, thanks to the IoT in particular, but also from other sources of information (factories in the same group, partners, suppliers, etc.). For example, AI makes it possible to implement a predictive maintenance strategy based on machine learning algorithms, in order to plan maintenance interventions according to needs.
A digital twin is a virtual replica of a machine, equipment, production line or even an entire supply chain or factory. Created from data collected by various types of sensors and connected devices, a digital twin allows production processes to be analyzed and changes to improve their efficiency to be tested. This technique is notably used in the context of BIM (Building Information Modeling).
Edge computing refers to all the tools that allow certain data to be analyzed at the “edge”, i.e. where it is created or collected. In some cases (e.g., a critical security issue), detecting a failure requires near-immediate response, which cannot wait for transit and analysis by the enterprise cloud. In addition, edge computing can reduce cybersecurity risks for the most critical data.
What will the factory of the future be like?
The factory of the future, also known as the smart factory, will benefit from optimized decision making, integration of all its management tools, a better adapted supply chain and will be able to respond to personalized needs while remaining profitable. Some of these features are already a reality in some plants.
Better decisions through data analysis
With Industry 4.0, the quantity and quality of data grows considerably, as well as the variety of their sources: connected sensors, more reliable field feedback, fluid communication between different departments or different plants of the same company, easier exchanges with the whole ecosystem such as suppliers and distributors, etc.
By analyzing this vast amount of data, plant managers can make more informed decisions about their production processes and adapt their organization to meet profitability and quality requirements.
Interconnectivity for information purposes
The factory of the future will be fully interconnected to facilitate the flow of data and information in general. This information can be shared between the different departments, thanks for example to the integration of the different software used (ERP, MES, CMMS, etc.).
A more personalized production
The smart factory of the future will be able to produce customized products according to the needs of the customers with better profitability than today. Smaller batches for a specific customer or need can be produced, bringing the industry into the era of “mass customization”.
The Industry 4.0 supply chain
Thanks to a fluid flow of information, the supply chain of the factory of the future will be better integrated with production operations. Relationships with suppliers and distributors will enable flows to be adapted to production needs or capacities, delivery conditions, etc.
Industry of the future and maintenance 4.0
Maintenance is an activity particularly impacted by the technological evolutions of Industry 4.0. The most remarkable trend is the development of conditional preventive maintenance and, above all, predictive maintenance.
From conditional maintenance to predictive maintenance
Conditional maintenance is based on the observation of the operation of the machines to adjust the maintenance according to it. Thanks to techniques such as vibration measurements, oil analysis, infrared thermography, it allows to optimize the frequency of maintenance interventions and the use of spare parts.
Thanks to new technologies such as IoT, maintenance professionals can now collect more data and monitor the evolution of their machines and equipment even more closely.
Based on this data and on “intelligent” technologies, a predictive maintenance strategy can be put in place, especially for the most critical equipment. Thanks to the modeling and simulation of production processes, predictive maintenance provides a better understanding of them in order to anticipate malfunctions, failures and breakdowns and to intervene at the best time to limit or eliminate the negative impact on production.
The final objective, as with all preventive maintenance, is to reduce corrective maintenance by optimizing the management of spare parts and increasing the availability of the machine pool at the lowest possible cost.
Maintenance 4.0 tools: CMMS and IoT
In the factory of the future, maintenance management relies on a central tool: CMMS, or Computerized maintenance management system. The new CMMS solutions are SaaS-based, offer a mobile application and allow integration with other industrial software such as ERP or MES.
A next-generation CMMS makes it easier to establish more efficient preventive maintenance plans by storing and analyzing in the cloud and thanks to artificial intelligence, the data collected by IoT sensors. It also facilitates the sharing of information with suppliers and distributors through community-based operations, making maintenance more responsive and efficient. Finally, it integrates modeling and digital twin technologies, for example through BIM.