By Dr. Vikas Sangwan*

The term Industry 4.0 stands for the fourth industrial revolution which is defined as a new level of organization and can be seen as the convergence of several emerging concepts and new technologies, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), big data, cloud computing, smart sensors, machine learning (ML), robotics, additive manufacturing (AM), artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and the Internet of Things (IoT). These technologies can support production flexibility, efficiency, and productivity thereby providing tremendous innovation, competitiveness growth, and improving current industrial system sustainability. Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the way companies manufacture, improve and distribute their products through smart technology. It is all about making business smarter and more automated. As a result of previous industrial revolutions, manufacturing processes becomes more complicated, automatic, and sustainable. The Fourth Industrial Revolution focuses on deepening the impact of our digital technologies by making our machines more self-sufficient. The goal is to enable autonomous decision-making processes, monitor assets and processes in real-time, and enable equally real-time connected value creation networks through stakeholders’ early involvement, and vertical and horizontal integration. Outlined in the book The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Professor Klaus Schwab, Industry 4.0 encompasses “new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries. The initial goals in Industry 4.0 typically are automation, (manufacturing) process improvement, and productivity/production optimization; the more mature goals are innovation and the transition to new business models and revenue sources with information and services as cornerstones.

Industry 4.0 Technologies

Industry 4.0 refers to the convergence and application of nine digital industrial technologies. These innovations bridge the physical and digital worlds and make smart and autonomous systems possible.

  1. Horizontal and vertical integration:The backbone of Industry 4.0 is horizontal and vertical integration. The premise of horizontal and vertical system integration is connectedness and visibility. Horizontal integration is an integration of IT systems and information flows across production and business planning processes with all stakeholders, from suppliers of materials and utilities to internal processes to distributors and customers. Horizontal integration helps with horizontal coordination, collaboration, cost savings, value creation, speed (as an enabler of smooth service and operations but also of faster time to market and worker’s efficiency), and the possibilities to create horizontal ecosystems of value, based on information. On the other side, vertical integration has a hierarchical component with various levels such as the field level, control level, process line level, actual production level, operations level, and enterprise planning level. Vertical integration connects very diverse systems from field & shop floor, through production and surveillance, to enterprise level. In other words, production is tightly integrated with business processes like R&D, quality assurance, sales and marketing, and other departments.  
  2. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT):The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a key component of Industry 4.0. It’s an industrial framework that uses sensors and RFID tags to link and synchronize a huge number of equipment and machines, providing real-time data about their condition, performance, and location. The IIoT may be used to connect every component of a manufacturing operation, and the data it generates can be used to improve efficiencies across the manufacturing operation. Companies may use this technology to run more efficient supply chains, design and adapt goods more quickly, avoid equipment downtime, stay on top of consumer preferences, manage products and inventories, and much more.
  3. Big Data and AI analytics: Large amounts of structured or unstructured information can be compiled, saved, sorted, and analyzed to identify patterns, trends, associations, and opportunities. It comes from a variety of places, including factory equipment and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, ERP and CRM systems, and weather and traffic apps, among others. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning-powered analytics are applied to data in real-time, and insights are used to improve decision-making and automation across the supply chain.
  4. Cloud computing: Cloud computing is the activity of storing, managing, and processing data utilizing networked remote servers housed on the Internet. It is Industry 4.0’s and digital transformation’s “cornerstone.” The benefits of cloud computing go far beyond speed, scalability, storage, and cost savings. The cloud acts as the connective tissue of Industry 4.0. The data that fuels Industry 4.0 technologies resides in the cloud and is used by the cyber-physical systems at the core of Industry 4.0 to communicate and coordinate.  
  5. Augmented reality (AR):Using digital visual components, sound, or other sensory cues transmitted via computer-generated perceptual information, augmented reality overlays extra sensory input onto the real world. When employees look at a physical object using smart glasses or mobile devices, they can see real-time IoT data, digitized parts, maintenance or assembly instructions, training information, and more. AR has major implications for maintenance, service, quality assurance, and technician training and safety. 
  6. Additive manufacturing:Another significant technology driving Industry 4.0 is additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing means creating items layer by layer, adding new material rather than subtracting it. It’s a revolutionary way of manufacturing that allows for the construction of lighter, stronger parts and systems. 3D printing is a well-known example of AM, with applications ranging from mass customization to dispersed manufacturing. With 3D printing, for example, parts and products can be stored as design files in virtual inventories and printed on-demand at the point of need – reducing both transportation distances and costs. This simplifies inventory management by enabling a more on-demand production strategy.
  7. Autonomous robots:With Industry 4.0, a new generation of autonomous robots is emerging. These are equipped with cutting-edge software, AI, sensors & machine vision and programmed to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. They can vary greatly in size and function, from inventory scanning drones to autonomous mobile robots for pick and place operations. These robots are capable of performing difficult as well as delicate tasks and can recognize, analyze and act on the information they receive from their surroundings. They offer industrial centers increased flexibility and efficiency, higher throughput rates, and a faster return on investment.
  8. Simulation/ Digital twins:digital twin is a virtual simulation of a real-world machine, product, process, or system created by pulling data from IoT sensors, devices, PLCs, and other objects connected to the internet. This core component of Industry 4.0 allows businesses to better understand, analyze and improve the performance and maintenance of industrial systems and products. It can be used by a manufacturing company to identify a specific malfunctioning part, predict potential issues, test changes to the process to find ways to minimize downtime or improve capacity, etc.

Cybersecurity: The increased connectivity and use of Big Data in Industry 4.0, makes effective cybersecurity cardinal for Industry 4.0. Without sufficient cybersecurity, manufacturers are exposed to the threat of stolen intellectual property, manufacturing equipment commandeered by saboteurs to create faulty products, industrial espionage, ransomware, identity theft, and more. However, by implementing a Zero Trust architecture and technologies like machine learning and blockchain, companies can automate threat detection, prevention, and response to minimize the risk of data breaches and production delays across their networks. 

Benefits of Industry 4.0

Issues and Challenges in Industry 4.0

The introduction of new technologies has aided industry progress, from the early adoption of mechanical systems to today’s highly automated assembly lines, allowing it to be flexible and adaptable to changing market demands. There are some challenges and fundamental issues that occur during the implementation of industry 4.0 in the current manufacturing industries.

  1. The mechanism for Intelligent Decision-Making and Negotiation: As fundamental aspects of self-organized systems, smart manufacturing systems require more autonomy and social capabilities, however, today’s systems have lack autonomy in the systems.
  2. High-Speed IWN Protocols: The IWN network used today can’t provide enough bandwidth for heavy communication and transfer of a high volume of data but it is superior to the weird network in the manufacturing environment.
  3. Industrial-specific Big Data and Analytics: Ensuring the high quality and integrity of data gathered from manufacturing systems is a difficult task. The annotations of the data entities are very diverse and it is an increasing challenge to incorporate diverse data repositories with different semantics for advanced data analytics.
  4. Cyber Security: With the increased connectivity and use of standard communications protocols, the need to protect critical industrial systems and manufacturing lines and system data from cyber security threats increases dramatically.
  5. Financial Issues: Proper implementation of industry 4.0 requires a huge amount of investment for the industry.

While some leading manufacturers have already overcome the mentioned challenges, others will need to pick up the pace. In the end, it’s the business that is important – with the innovative transformation of processes and business models: enhanced profit, cost reduction, improvement in customer experience, optimization in customer lifetime value and where possible customer loyalty, sell more and innovate to grow and remain relevant.

*Dr. Vikas Sangwan (Teaching & Research Professional with Industrial Expertise)

Assistant Professor, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, Punjab.