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Science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said, "Living at risk is jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down." Though this is a truly inspiring thought, I'm not convinced that construction or even cognitive thought would be at the forefront of someone's mind when faced with a precipice. Sometimes we need a push to tip us over the edge.
Likewise, in the realization of Industry 4.0, a few tipping points are needed. As rapid socio-economic developments and changes cause disruptions to business and society, the fourth industrial revolution is beginning to take its first few steps toward the steep drop. Following are three major tipping points that could push Industry 4.0 in the direction of becoming a fully realized concept.
An influx in the use and subsequent abundance of data can be attributed to the advancement of Industry 4.0 and has called for businesses to review their systems. The rise in data volumes has led to the coinage of the term "big data." This has caused a greater need than ever for companies to store and gather information and, in doing so, make better use of it. Organizations are now making use of historic data with advanced analytics, thus enabling cognitive machines to self-diagnose and configure. The use of cyber-physical systems to detect issues increases productivity and quality. Businesses are also turning to smarter energy consumption by using product life-cycle platforms and cloud computing.
The age of economic globalization has also been a driving factor in Industry 4.0. Global supply chains are becoming increasingly common but are accompanied by efficiency issues due to distance and time zones. The Industry 4.0 solution for this is to create a virtual global factory — a network of businesses from multiple regions that can resolve issues of connectivity between companies and also for the relationship between the customer and the supplier.
The increasing use of technology such as remote database access (RDA) and radio frequency identification (RFID) to collate and distribute information supports the concept of the Internet of Things as a potential global digital infrastructure.
The end customer's evolving needs have also energized Industry 4.0. Innovative technology, such as 3-D printing, enables the conversion of a digital design into a physical product. This is rapidly materializing at an industrial level. Consequently, products can become customized to the individual, though they are made at a mass production level.
The use of a digital system to design and create products creates flexibility for both business-to-business transactions and the end user. The combination of the customer's human input and dynamic data analysis and response may mean that in the future a digital ecosystem will be created whereby human decision is augmented through algorithms.
Now is the time for organizations to take the leap for Industry 4.0. However, if you're going to build wings for your leap of faith, you're going to need a well-thought-out plan and a team that is invested in the upgrade.
Jonathan Wilkins is the marketing director for EU Automation, an obsolete industrial parts supplier.