The future of manufacturing
Much of the technological progress highlighted here already hints at the smart factory of the future, an environment we are told will operate using higher levels of autonomy through distributed decision making. Higher levels of distributed intelligence will be made possible through miniaturised processors, storage units, sensors, and transmitters that will be embedded in all conceivable types of machines, unfinished products and materials, as well as smart tools and new software for structuring data flows. Industry 4.0 makes use of embedded technology and refers to this as Cyber Physical Systems that have both a computational element and physical interaction with the real world. This will be a long-term programme of more than 20 years and achieving it will require the elimination of data and media discontinuities. Industrial software will be central to this, with Digital Enterprise Concepts conjoining product and production lifecycles.
Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineering (aca-tech) believes deploying these new technologies and processes will lead to a 30 percent increase in industrial productivity and as it points out, deploying CPS technology could revolutionise not only production but mobility and healthcare too.
In the UK, the potential benefit of robotics and autonomous systems have been recognised too and will feature more in technology investments made by government to progress national capabilities. This was highlighted in the 2013 Policy Exchange publication Eight Great Technologies by The Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, but arguably takes a broader technological view than the more production specific work of Forschungs Union.
Automation has progressed well beyond the simple control of machines, infrastructure and production processes. Its next steps are about flexibility - rapidly adjusting machinery and plants to accommodate new products. Many of the technologies needed for Industry 4.0 exist and include the Internet, Profinet as a standardised data connection, simulation software and rapid centralised engineering tools such as the Siemens’ TIA Portal which builds on the company's long-standing approach to Totally Integrated Automation - integrating all automation and drive components efficiently through open interfaces which maximise flexibility. Security, safety, engineering, data management and communication are all central topics of this integration today and will be shaped even more in the future by the principles of Industry 4.0.
In essence, Industry 4.0 will involve the technical integration of CPS into manufacturing and logistics and the use of the Internet of Things and Services in industrial processes. This will have implications for value creation, business models, downstream services and work organisation. Siemens believes Industry 4.0 will be key to integrating product and production lifecycles but users today can already benefit from foundation technologies such as industrial networks, sensors and software tools that enable the digital manufacturing enterprise.