What is Industry 4.0 in real terms?

7 February 2020

Over the past 12 months I have read a great many articles about industry 4.0 and the Internet Of Things(IOT). There are some fantastic developments being made and the technology is moving forward rapidly. Including the release of the new IPC specification for machine communication which I hope will be adopted by most manufacturers.

I know the ultimate nirvana state that we are aiming for is the ”Smart Factory” with only the minimum number of personnel or none at all? I can’t help but wonder what considerations are being made for the people to be included in to the stages before we reach Nirvana. I want to take a step back and re-look at the issues in the short to midterm on how we make Industry 4.0 work for operators in production.

Let’s look at a simplified diagram. 

Each node has a function process management, product information, machine control, planning etc. Centrally there is an over-arching intelligent system that is advising/managing the factory.

The key to the successful implementation is the communication between the node and central system. The little line marked with red arrow.  The whole concept is essentially a “FEEDBACK LOOP” all be it a very complicated one. 

Communication between machines and software work fantastically well. As long as the communication protocol has been resolved…

In reality people are a Node in the system. They will be for the foreseeable future. The communication between Nodes doesn’t work so well when people are involved.

As there are variation in the constancy and quality of information that comes back from the human node to the system. We are just not as good as a machine in communicating our actions. In essence any manual process becomes a black box and you have to spend a lot of time and effort to try and understand what is going on inside the box.  

Industry 4.0 image

This makes the free-flowing nature of communication between the human node and the AI very difficult to achieve in which in turn causes the feedback loop to breakdown or become out of sync.

In the real world the Industry 4.0 concept doesn’t work in the way it should because people are unavoidably involved in the process. The communication can break down and we have the black box scenario. Input and an output but no idea if the process is running smoothly.

What do operators really need to work within an Industry 4.0 environment?

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