You may have heard about IOT and its applications through the consumer/domestic markets with products such as Apple Homekit or Samsung Smart Things and their associated range of integrated products. However, IOT isn’t just for the domestic market and it isn’t necessarily all about the cloud.
IOT is simply Data and Connectivity. It means devices reporting and talking to each other, notifying when events have been triggered or circumstances have changed. This communication can be stored for analysis to discover and act upon trends. This is 4IR.
So what can IOT bring to a factory?
In terms of industry and factories, this is the step on from robotics. Machine centre automation brought levels of efficiency and operational effectiveness not seen before. The next step is joining the dots.
What is important to understand about 4IR is that the concept of a data-driven factory is not new. What makes 4IR different is using smart technology to integrate with every aspect of your business, factory and to futher connect with other parts of your supply chain.
Using data to measure operational performance daily, monthly, annually has always been vital. 4IR moves on this by delivering a much higher level of detail and quality of data to your fingertips in realtime.
Key measures can now be collected at a rate previously impossible and fed into a central repository for analysis there and then. Data collection also no longer involves human input either giving you greater confidence in the analysis and trends you are reading.
Realtime data brings live performance analysis to the factory floor. This empowers workers to predict and act upon problems before they arise. Workers move away from mundane operational roles and fall into judgement based roles delivering higher productivity, reduced downtime and improved job satisfaction.
Machine operators can diagnose problems on the fly and adjust configurations to attain maximum output. Floor managers can better spot congestion before it occurs and plan alternative routes to relieve pressure. Factory managers can monitor ROI in realtime better understand their proximity to full capacity.
Full 4IR adoption will allow the system and employees to work in tandem to deliver even higher levels of efficiency.
The most important and revolutionary step in 4IR is connectivity and the creation of a factory ecosystem. Machine centres need to be talking to each other and autonomously making decisions as a system based on the production plan. A central repository is in turn listening to these machines to drive and refine the production plan, taking into account a multitude of data inputs such a material and inventory levels, in realtime.
4IR takes the idea of automating single tasks and goes on to automate the entire production route and workflow.
Connectivity shouldn’t stop inside the factory however. Connecting with external stakeholders is just as important. By adopting external connectivity, manufacturers are able to engage and integrate with customers and suppliers like never before. By allowing customers to integrate, manufacturers can respond more quickly to their customer’s requirements. Furthermore, they can help their customer’s make more informed decisions helping drive their sales cycles. In this way a manufacturer’s offering can improve dramatically.
So how do I make 4IR a reality?
How to turn 4IR into a reality isn’t entirely clear at this point. Manufacturing processes differ between each factory, across each sector and industry. Each company will have a custom approach to 4IR. Further to this, the number of companies offering technology solutions to manufacturers is huge. How customisable and integrable are all these technology solutions? Currently, not very.
What is clear is that there will have to be some kind of framework for 4IR, allowing for different manufacturers to customise their approaches to the manufacturing process but also enable them to quickly plug into other 4IR enabled entities and devices.
In software, applications often have an API which allows for external integration. An API creates a set of end points which follow a specific set of rules serving as an interface between different software programs to facilitate their interaction.
I personally imagine 4IR following a similar protocol. Software will be flexible and customisable for the manufacturer, but points of communication between 4IR entities and devices will need to be standardised to facilitate easy interoperability.
Security will also be a big consideration. With future 4IR enabled factories being so dependent on technology, manufacturers could not afford a cyber breach. Furthermore, encryption of data flowing between 4IR enabled entities will be paramount. At a base level this will no doubt include commercially sensitive financial data, price data and stock levels.
At Flowflex, we’re currently exploring in-house solutions to cover our needs in the short term. We are however keeping our ear close to the ground to see how the 4IR movement progresses.
Call To Action
Access to IOT technology has never been easier or cheaper. The barriers for entry for every size of company are low, which makes progression a level playing field.
We at Flowflex are certainly on our way. If you want to talk to us about and help in our discussion, then I would be very happy to talk to you. If you want to see more from us on 4IR, follow us for future updates.
Disclaimer: Each manufacturer faces a different challenge. The way we at Flowflex interpret 4IR will not necessarily apply to other applications. This is a narrative derived from our experience in our sector.