Put simply, Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution. Initially, machinery mechanisation was made possible through water and steam powered systems. The industry eventually progressed to mass production and electrical systems (2nd Industrial Revolution) and then onto computer integration and automation (3rd Industrial Revolution). While automation and computer systems are advanced concepts in themselves, you’ll be interested to know that machines and factories are now moving towards Cyber-Physical Systems or “Smart Factories”.
“One concept in industry 4.0 is we have the intelligence inside the machine not just outside. The robot doesn’t just pick up one type of component the robot can pick up any type of component and the intelligence is in that component it picks up.”
A term coined by the German Government during their promotion of computerisation of manufacturing, Industry 4.0 concerns four principles:
- Interoperability: the ability of machines to connect and communicate with each other via the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Internet of People (IoP).
- Information Transparency: the ability of information systems to create a virtual copy of the physical world by enriching digital plant models with sensor data.
- Technical assistance: first, the ability of assistance systems to support humans by making informed decisions and solving urgent problems on short notice. Second, the ability to physically support humans by conducting a range of tasks that are unpleasant or unsafe for their human co-workers.
- Decentralised decisions: the ability to make decisions on their own and to perform tasks as autonomously as possible
Relating to interoperability, the team at Pilz have been busy creating Industry 4.0 specific applications and components. One mentioned by Adam during his presentation is their new Modularity Controllers, which can be thought of as the brain behind machinery automation, controlling tasks and decision making.
“For a modular machine you need a controller that allows modularity. The PSS 4000 is an automation system that you can configure as an entire machine or individual plant components.
The controllers themselves talk to each other and there’s information that goes between them, but they can also operate independently.”
The technology behind Industry 4.0 machines is only continuing to increase in ease of use and level of automation. With their Module Controller, Pilz has also implemented a visualisation system that gives a live visualisation of plant data and status.
“With a lot of the information being web-based in industry 4.0, we need a visualisation system that works on web-based technology.
Our system is built on HTML5 so we can view it on browsers or Smart Phones. If there’s a fault in the plant you can easily see visualisation of a plant on your phone or computer.”
These implementations in machinery are often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Basically, this concept revolves around taking full advantage of cloud technology to share data and run diagnostics between machines and operators. As Adam explains:
“With cloud-based tech becoming more prevalent, there are modules to bring tech into the machine from the cloud—they convert information into data, which goes directly into the cloud. So while you’re on the beach you can check the up-time of your plant and get information on your machine.“
Even before the factory is in operation though, another aspect of Industry 4.0 comes in Virtual Conditioning. This area of the concept is where groups like Festo are advancing Australian Industry. In short, Virtual Conditioning is a simulation system that allows you to visualise a prospected factory before production. The system allows users to fully design and simulate the factory, to accurately measure what it will be able to achieve. It covers the overall process of the production line from workers to end product, all before even entering a warehouse.
Throughout Austech this year, Industry 4.0 was a hot topic of conversation at many seminars and the concept is seeing the industry moving into the future fast. As the industry endlessly strives for improvements in efficiency and safety, many exhibits during the expo showcased some of the technology developed so far. These being: Augmented Reality based technology, wearable tech to enhance workforce efficiency, 3D Printing, and all the latest in machine automation. That said, while we mainly talked about Industry 4.0’s place in manufacturing spaces, the concept also includes mining, agriculture and essentially all levels of the industry.
Looking ahead as to what Industry 5.0 might have in store, who knows, but don’t be surprised if phrases like Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Augmented Reality are tossed around in the not-too-distant future.