Welcome again to the Industrial Revolution. It’s been 300 years since the one that defined the term, but by all counts we are in the fourth iteration that has shaped manufacturing:
- The original, circa 1760, occurred with the introduction of mechanical production operations powered by water and steam.
- The one your grandfather or great-grandfather experienced involved Henry Ford and his cohorts: the introduction of mass production, based on the division of labor and powered by electrical energy.
- The one our fathers saw firsthand took production to a new level via electronics and information technology.
- The one we’re in the midst of now is based on cyber-physical production systems. Some call it Industry 4.0 (the Germans) and some call it Smart Manufacturing (the Americans); whatever you call it, it’s about highly intelligent cyber-physical systems that can autonomously perform end-to-end activities along the value chain.
Industry 4.0, a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, promotes the computerization of traditional industries such as manufacturing. The goal is the intelligent factory (Smart Factory) that is characterized by adaptability, resource efficiency, and ergonomics, as well as the integration of customers and business partners in business and value processes. Its technological foundation is comprised of cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things. Experts believe that Industry 4.0 or the fourth Industrial Revolution could be realized within the decade; it’s certainly well underway.
In the United States, an initiative known as the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) is also working on the future of manufacturing. SMLC is a non-profit organization of manufacturing practitioners, suppliers, and technology companies; manufacturing consortia; universities; government agencies; and laboratories. The aim of this coalition is to enable stakeholders in the manufacturing industry to form collaborative R&D, implementation, and advocacy groups for development of the approaches, standards, platforms, and shared infrastructure that facilitate the broad adoption of manufacturing intelligence.
Where is all this pointing? First, this new concept of production will raise the game in terms of technological complexity. This means developing software tools to design and build new plants and systems, as well as to operate them.
Second, in this new manufacturing era, everything is connected with the aid of sensors and RFID chips. Everything (products, logistics, tools) will communicate around the organizing principle of improving production. In this new scenario, the physical and virtual worlds are integrated seamlessly, possible because every element exists as a virtual and physical model at the same time.
One of interesting elements in “Manufacturing 4.0” is that manufacturing execution will play an increasingly important role. This is understandable, as the degree of connectivity between automation and MES will increase dramatically, across all borders of the organization. Further, the integration of ERP and MES will move towards total transparency and real-time connectivity to business data.
In 4.0, all time is real time.
If you’re not excited by these developments, you’re probably not a manufacturing geek. I, for one, am “geeked up” about the changes underway in manufacturing.