The Industrial Internet of Things

Our world is in the middle of an exciting and remarkable evolution of the way we make products. The digitization of manufacturing is nothing short of a revolution and has been labeled the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0.

First, let’s take a look at a bit of history.

A Brief History of Industrial Revolutions

The First Industrial Revolution (1760-1830): The global economy changed from agriculture to industry. The main hallmarks of this era were the discovery of coal, the steam engine’s invention, and the development of metal forging.

The Second Industrial Revolution (1850-1970): This period revolved around the discovery of electricity, gas, and oil. The invention of the combustion engine, the telegraph, the telephone, the automobile, and the airplane are highlights of this era.

The Third Industrial Revolution (1950-2010): This revolution was characterized by nuclear energy, electronics, and computers. Significant advancements in this era are things like industrial automation, telecommunications, and widespread globalization. During the third industrial revolution, internet protocols were developed, Ethernet was invented and standardized, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) were linked to personal computers (PCs), and the Google search engine and the Internet of Things were born.

Industrial Revolutions

What is Industry 4.0?

Simply put, Industry 4.0 combines traditional manufacturing practices with the latest innovative technology. The primary focus is to use machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to bring about increased automation, improved communication and monitoring, and the use of intelligent technology to analyze and diagnose issues without the need for human intervention. Industry 4.0 is all about interconnectivity, automation, machine learning, and real-time data.

Who started Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 did not start with a specific invention from a single company. It began with a 2013 German government memo where “Industrie 4.0” was mentioned. This document outlined a government plan to fully computerize the country’s manufacturing industry without the need for human intervention.

This idea got strong attention at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland when German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated

We must—and I say this as the German chancellor in the face of a strong German economy—deal quickly with the fusion of the online world and the world of industrial production. In Germany, we call it Industrie 4.0 because otherwise, those who are the leaders in the digital domain will take the lead in industrial production. We enter this race with great confidence. But it’s a race we have not yet won.¹

At this point, Germany is the world’s leading Industry 4.0 nation. However, the United States has the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), a non-profit organization made up of manufacturers, suppliers, technology firms, government agencies, universities, and laboratories. SMLC’s goal is to construct an open and affordable smart platform that enables manufacturing companies to access the latest modeling and analytical technologies.

Industry 4.0 Applications

A great way to understand what something is all about is to look at some of the ways it is used. Following are six of the most important use cases for smart technology in manufacturing:

  1. Supply chain management: Industry 4.0’s smart solutions provide a manufacturer more insight, greater control, and data visibility across its entire supply network. These improvements result in cheaper goods that are of higher quality and get to the marketplace faster.
  2. Identify issues and opportunities: Connected machines collect volumes of data that a manufacturing company can use to identify performance and maintenance issues. Big data can also enable the identification of patterns and the gathering of insights that can help companies make sound business decisions.
  3. Autonomous equipment: Robots were once almost exclusively used in large enterprises with equally large budgets (e.g., autonomous cranes used in shipyards). However, today, robotics are cheaper and are used in industrial settings of every size. Robots are fast and safe; they reduce costs and allow for better logistics on the factory floor.
  4. Additive manufacturing: 3D printing technology has made tremendous strides over the past ten years—and is moving from mainly being used for constructing prototypes into actual production. Of particular interest to the manufacturing sector are the advancements in metal 3D printing.
  5. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): Smart sensors and actuators greatly enhance manufacturing and industrial processes. Interconnected devices can be used in all sorts of manufacturing operations.
  6. Cloud: Cloud computing enables the use of technologies such as high-performance computing (HPC), 3D printing, IIoT, and industrial robots, which have become vital to industrial settings. Even small manufacturing firms have access to these technologies because of the cloud.

Industry 4.0 Applications

The Benefits of Adopting an Industry 4.0 Model

While smart factory technologies are pretty interesting and exciting, the best part is that they improve Return on Investment (ROI) performance. Here is a list of the significant benefits of Industry 4.0 technologies:

  • Increased productivity: Because of Industry 4.0 technologies such as enhanced monitoring and automated decision-making, goods can be produced more quickly, resulting in higher production rates.
  • Greater efficiency: The use of IIoT devices lessens downtime, accelerates production lines, enables quick automated decisions, and allows for fast, automatic tracking and tracing—all of which shore up a company’s efficiency.
  • Increased collaborative working: Industry 4.0 technologies make it possible for all departments of a company (e.g., production, administrative, research and development, marketing, etc.) to share the same knowledge at the same time, which encourages collective, company-wide input.
  • Easier compliance: Industry 4.0 technologies make it possible to automate compliance to government regulations by using enhanced tracking and tracing, product serialization, data logging, etc.
  • Cost reduction: Despite the upfront costs entailed in setting up a smart factory, the cost of doing business will drop dramatically using automation, systems integration, data management, etc. Industry 4.0 technologies reduce costs because they:
  1. Make better use of resources
  2. Manufacture things more quickly
  3. Lessen machine and production downtime
  4. Lessen product quality issues
  5. Lessen resource, material, and product waste
  6. Lower overall operating costs.

Wrapping Up

In today’s business world, a company will not survive if it is not sustainable and scalable. It is especially vital that manufacturing companies use tools that will help them to streamline functions, increase productivity and collaboration, and leverage data in real-time, while still reducing overhead. Industry 4.0 technologies and the Industrial Internet of Things are poised to help companies survive and prosper.

1 ZDNet: Germany’s Vision For Industrie 4.0: The Revolution Will Be Digitised