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In the next few years, how does the future of Industry 4.0 look?
Based on current estimation 10.9 billion Euro will be invested in the Industry 4.0. This significant investment clearly shows that we have reached another milestone in the evolution of industry.
The vision behind the 4.0 concept is based on two major pillars, namely the smart factory – where the manufacturing factories are going to change from centralized control to flexible, self-operating plants – and the so-called global factory – where production networks are going to be established without geological borders.
Personally I think that in case of Industry 4.0 we are talking about a step-by-step transformation, rather than a sudden change. This transformation impacts the whole value chain – communication, planning, production and logistics. In the upcoming few years the major focus is still on M2M communication and softwares.
Relevant industry players allocate significant resources in industrial software developments. To give one example, an industrial giant like Siemens spends 50% of R&D budget on softwares. Roughly 17.000 out of the total 30.000 R&D staffing are SW developers.
Besides internal developments, companies make alliances and joint projects, and, moreover, clusters have been established for Industry 4.0 to gather resources, expertise and knowledge.
Still, there are challenges that we will continue to face until we reach the state of the total integration. Security of the system, data management, safety and communication platforms are the biggest barriers that the key players of the industry have been working on in order to be able to take the next steps towards full integration of cyber-physical systems within and across factories.
What are the three main driving forces of change behind Industry 4.0?
In the industry of the future, the product will become an information carrier and steer its own way through the production process, thus creating intelligent production.
I see the following main driving forces:
Flexible production, customization and cost efficiency even for small series, thus enabling them to combine the individual-tailored product with the benefits of scaled mass production. This means that the future factory is capable of meeting specific customer requirements within a short period of time and without without any significant losses.
Effective logistics: Impressive development and big scale automatization can be foreseen in logistics as well. Connecting the logistics systems among the manufacturing factories and their suppliers provides major synchronization potential, huge cost saving and better capacity-to-demand ratios. Looking at longer horizon autonomous transport, automatized inventory systems will further improve the efficiency of the supply chain.
Predictive maintenance: Whoever worked in manufacturing knows how painful the impact an unplanned down time has on business. It is not only the shut-down time, but indirectly such loss can lead to losing a customer or even market share.
In the concept of 4.0 all manufacturing components have an individual IP address. With the support of sensors and intelligent softwares, a safety network can be created. Such monitoring systems detect the changes of parameters and inform the operators about the necessity of maintenance or even advise preventive repairing work. This leads to higher reliability and output.
All the above mentioned items lead to one major goal, namely to enhance competitiveness.
Many in the industry are turning to technological advancements such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing and smart factory manufacturing, to propel their aggressive business goals. How will these digital tools transform consumer demand as we move forward?
Digital tools at the end of the day have one ultimate goal, namely to satisfy the user. All connected solutions have to focus on the users and their problems. The above mentioned digital tools take the customers’ wishes as the base during the development phase.
Developing specific algorithms, huge data bases and the possibility to process them or the availability of powerful IT systems make the artificial intelligence a focus sector for the industry players with an estimated 20% annual growth rate in upcoming years. Out of the broad category of AI, I would highlight the autonomous robots as key, offering more flexibility, adaptability and mobility.
The other technological advancement, which was mentioned in the question, is the 3D printing.
In my point of view, the transformation – even the pace of the transformation – of the business objective of 3D printing is a key factor in understanding how the latest innovations will shape consumer demand. 3D printing had been designed and used to make prototypes, to shorten product development cycles and support the work of R&D. Currently, it has shifted towards mass production, offering lower material waste, production time and eliminating molds.
In the end, all the functions and solutions provided by the above mentioned technological advancements need to aim to serve the users in a way, which makes the users’ life safer and more convenient.
From the consumer perspective I would highlight the usability. Due to productivity and efficiency in our current environment, users need to have comprehensive understanding and broad responsibility. The users main expectation would be visualized, easy-to-use, intelligent tools, which make their daily work efficient.
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