Industry 4.0 has received a lot of media attention in recent years, but the concept remains abstract for many entrepreneurs. Beyond the buzz, Industry 4.0 has the potential to significantly boost a company’s productivity, reduce costs and improve the quality of the products but what about its socio-environmental impacts?
Essentially, the technology allows you to check on your production at every step of the process, therefore improving quality. It also helps reduce and even eliminate downtime, because the data from your equipment tells you when your machine needs maintenance or when it’s about to break down.“Digital technology is transforming the industrial and manufacturing world in profound ways. Canadian companies are uniquely positioned to seize the opportunities created by this revolution—yet they must move quickly or risk being left behind for good,” says Matthew Wetmore- National Managing Partner, Industries and Regions, PwC Canada.
General confusion between Industry 4.0 and advanced robotics?
In industries, robotics and digitalization work together very well, but they are not the same thing. Robots are very good at doing repetitive precision work. Industry 4.0 technologies, Smart Manufacturing, Smart Production, or Internet of Things collect data about processes and can, for example, connect robots together or with other parts of the production process.
We often hear in the media that we’ll all be replaced by robots in five years, but that’s not going to happen. But the technology is advancing step by step. Canadian businesses still have time to adjust, but they shouldn’t wait too long if they don’t want to be left out.
Why is Industry 4.0 important for business?
Recent developments in technology have made digital technologies more affordable, user-friendly and robust than ever before. This has made it easier and cheaper for businesses of all sizes to invest in the technology. Meanwhile, results from several studies and papers ( such as research by BDC, PwC), is showing that the productivity gains brought on by Industry 4.0 technologies will eventually create such an advantage that businesses will find it hard to compete if they are not using it.
What are the main applications of Industry 4.0?
There’s a wide variety of Industry 4.0 applications that range in costs and complexity. The following are some of the common Industry 4.0 applications you could implement in your business:
Go paperless—Digitize your business documents (e.g., work instructions, forms, purchase and shipping orders, product specifications) to save time and money, and to reduce errors due to incorrect and outdated information. This will hugely decrease the paper footprint making the company more environmentally sustainable.
Monitor and control machinery and equipment in real time—Install wireless sensors on your machinery and equipment to monitor your production and collect data in real time. This allows you to accurately track production, identify and correct problems, and make more informed strategic decisions. This is known as the Industrial Internet of Things. Setting these sensors to enable optimum power usage will further impact the industry’s power consumption and, hence, operating cost. Also, it will enable the company to be more efficient in terms of causing zero waste as all operations and outcomes are analyzed and moderated.
Introduce smart processes—Introduce machines that can analyze their own data to predict when maintenance is needed and even book an appointment with a technician. Advanced control technologies measure quality in real time during production and take action to correct defects. Embedding sustainability rules within the code will help these machines to be more EHS compliance.
Optimize processes—Use advanced analytic software to mine data to identify the best sustainable production and maintenance scenarios to improve production and optimize asset utilization.
Experiment with 3-D printing—Use 3-D printers to make prototypes quickly, fabricate complex forms and make recyclable ultra-personalized products tailored to your customers’ specifications.
Connect products to the Internet—Equip products with sensors to monitor usage. Use them to alert your customers when maintenance is needed and other issues arise. You can also use smart products to add services based on usage, shift to a product-as-a-service business model or develop new, innovative products. This will help the company to enable customers to use products more sustainably.
Integrate computer networks—Use the Internet to connect with your customers, suppliers and business partners. You might use an extranet or an electronic data interchange system (EDI) for B2B connections and a transactional website for B2C connections.
Is Industry 4.0 a Social Hurdle or Opportunity?
For all of Industry 4.0’s promise, companies face a significant challenge in bringing it to life—namely, nurturing the culture, employee empowerment, organizational structures, leadership and skills needed to prosper in the new world of digitized industry.
Half of the manufacturers and industrial companies believe that the lack of digital culture and training is the biggest challenge they face in the Industry 4.0 era—even for those companies who feel their own transformation was well underway. With companies in every imaginable sector desperate to recruit digital expertise, its little wonder manufacturers and industrial companies believe building up in-house skill sets is the best route to talent success.
Canadian companies have an important advantage over their competitors in many parts of the world. Canada has an abundance of the kind of talent so vital to Industry 4.0 success: software engineers, computer scientists, data analysts and more. Our schools continue to provide a steady flow of such talent each year. What’s more, our homegrown Silicon Valley-level talent is available far more cheaply than the counterpart in the US.
Does Industry 4.0 affect Environment?
Industry 4.0 has been devised with a holistic approach to manufacturing, environment and business. While an exponential growth in smart infrastructures may impose drastic burdens on the environment, the conventional Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) techniques are incapable of quantifying such impacts. Therefore, there is a gap between advances in the manufacturing domain and the environmental assessment field. The capabilities offered by smart manufacturing can be applied to LCA with the aim of providing advanced impact assessment, and decision-making mechanisms that match the needs of its manufacturing counterpart.
Industry 4.0 enables the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by data-centred and traceable carbon footprint analyses. In addition, it aims at reducing waste as well as resource and energy consumption. Examples include closed value creation networks, reuse of resources and tools, as well as retrofitting of machines. Furthermore and due to the opportunities of, for example, additive manufacturing, which is considered one of the core technologies in the Industry 4.0 era, physical transport and logistics processes are reduced.
Industry 4.0 is the next step by manufacturing industries in achieving zero environmental impact while increasing manufacturing efficiency, economic stability and social sustainability. It is not yet the final stage of development and will keep on improving with further innovation in technology and sustainability. Though it is difficult for companies to adopt every new manufacturing revolution initially if they take it as a long-term benefit, they will be able to utilize it thoroughly.
I believe that Industry 4.0 will have a huge impact on industries in both developed and developing countries by enabling them to gain from its sustainability benefits. These and more are the reason for our existence. At FOURPOINT ZERO SOLUTIONS, all we do is innovate, giving you all it takes to reinvent your business process.