Self-driving cars. Intelligent bots. Neuro-tech psycho-development. Genetic editing. Geoengineering. Artificial lifeforms. Mobile supercomputing of a surreal standard. Welcome to Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not a purely industry-specific phenomenon. Like the three industrial revolutions of the past (water and steam-powered motors, electricity-powered assembly lines, and computerized systems), the fourth industrial revolution will challenge the very way we work, live, and connect with one another – and with bots. The adoption and amalgamation of distinct values like the internet of systems, internet of things, and the cyber-physical grid will redefine and reform the very fabric of industry as we know it.
First off, we need to understand that Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not a gimmicky marketing stunt pulled off to sell a new technology. It’s a living phenomenon described in very fine detail by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. In his book, Professor Schwab argues:
The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril.
While Schwab highlights that the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution promises exponential growth, he also points out a set of risks that constitute the “potential peril” in the above statement. We’ll get to that in a minute.
What constitutes Industry 4.0?
By now, it is understood that both computing and automation have leaped to the next level with Industry 4.0. Core principles of robotics are connected to computer systems, which are in turn equipped with ML (machine learning) algorithms. The resultant loop can learn, control, and execute robotics and allied operations with minimum (almost negligible) human supervision.
Then, there’s the introduction of what is called the “smart factory.” Within the setup of a smart factory, cyber-physical systems have the capability to make decentralized decisions while monitoring physical processes. The wireless web connects the physical systems enabling interaction with one another and with humans.
By this structure, a setup can be considered within the Industry 4.0 structure when it has the following four attributes:
- Independent (or decentralized) decision making: removing the “approval” cap off simple, obvious decisions for cyber-physical systems, allowing them to be as autonomous as possible.
- Sound technical assistance: assisting humans with technical aid for tasks that are either too labor-intensive or too dangerous for humans along with the general ability to assist humans with decision making and problem-solving.
- Transparency of information: contextualizing information and datasets through systems that create virtual copies of the physical world through sensor data.
- Heterogeneous network interactions: devices, sensors, machines, and humans connecting and communicating with one another in a complex yet seemingly manageable environment
The concerns with the major shift in Industry 4.0
If your organizational infrastructure has woven through the above elements, you are already riding the Industry 4.0 wave. But like it has happened every time a new technology has set in, a set of concerns follow the benefits.
First off, the natural extension of allowing new systems entry into existing data banks brings the threat of security breaches. The more access you give to these systems, the more data security issues you will have to deal with. Plus, proprietary production knowledge presents an adjacent concern related to IT security.
The degree of stability and system reliance required for successful cyber-physical bonding will be very high. Such states can be difficult to obtain as well as maintain. Additionally, we have the challenge of maintaining the integrity of manufacturing and production processes with dwindling human control.
Perhaps the most crucial challenge in all of this will be the loss of high-paying human jobs. We simply cannot brush under the carpet the corporate accountability for humans in a world of bots. Finally, there’s always the risk of running into expensive production outages arising out of technical inconsistencies.
First-time blues matter less than the expansive potential
The singular most challenging part of implementing new technology across industries is the lack of experience. The systemic shortage of manpower in implementing these new changes would be augmented with the general reluctance of stakeholders in trusting new technologies upfront. Low trust naturally translates into lower investments.
Irrespective of the initial round of suspicion, there’s a lot of benefits offered by the 4.0 model. More importantly, the benefits outlive the concerns by a long shot. Safety of human workers in dangerous work environments can be dramatically improved. We will exercise far greater control over the supply chains when there is processed data at every level of the delivery process.
One thing is certain. The cyber-physical combination kind of guarantees increased productivity and faster deliveries. With that, the revenue, market share, and profits – all shoot up.
Industry 4.0 demonstration city
Mayor John Carnely of Cincinnati, Ohio has declared that Cincinnati, Ohio will be an Industry 4.0 demonstration city. The primary objective of the proclamation is to create a hub for investment and manufacturing within the Industry 4.0 environment. The resolution also thanked the contributions of Prof. Jay Lee and the Center for Intelligence Maintenance Systems for their positive contributions to the global revolutions surrounding Industry 4.0. The Cincinnati move is not just strategic but also historical given the potential leverage it provides to the manufacturing hub in the city.
Besides the Cincinnati move, reports suggest that emerging economies like India will reap great benefits of Industry 4.0 practices, largely because of readily available resources and the willingness to participate in new technologies.
Are we ready for the transformation?
To be honest, most industries will follow conventional practices unless there’s a standout example of blazing success in the Industry 4.0 model. But I am afraid much time will be lost with respect to realizing the largest gains promised by the revolution. Companies that show the courage to dive in fast will well and truly emerge as the frontrunners in maximizing profits.
There are additional issues that play beyond the willingness to adapt to change. Legacy systems cannot be overhauled in a night. The efficacy of tenured systems with proprietary applications should also continue to be just as important as they are today.
The analysis of big data and dark data will be one of the first challenges that the 4.0 architecture will need to address. We presently have immense volumes of data generated by digital systems, existing sensors, and other existing equipment. Much of these data banks that are presently unaccounted for will influence decision making in the industry.
Robotic Process Automation and Industry 4.0
That we are generating more volumes of global data than ever is one side of the story. ERP systems, bots, sensors, and even cookies are collecting pools of data that is currently unused. Most manufacturers are concerned about making this connection between machines from the production unit and back office systems. Finding a way to channel the unstructured data requires more than conventional computing. It requires software-based intelligent automation.
The best bet about RPA is that it seamlessly gels in with the existing IT setup inclusive of hardware and legacy applications. Large volumes of enterprise data can be indexed and structured using RPA. When clubbed with AI, RPA presents learning capabilities with advanced data models to organize and classify all the information, thereby making it valuable. On the whole, the platform visualizes these insights and eventually helps in predicting the future.
Notwithstanding the magnanimity of the promise presented by the Industry 4.0 model, the realization of success can only come with the right RPA solutions and resources. Futran Solutions specializes in delivering composite RPA solutions and resources. To expand upon a wholesome list of RPA offerings, Futran recently partnered with Automation Anywhere – a leading platform for implementation of automation solutions across the industry.
Jyoti Vazirani is the co-founder and CEO of Futran Solutions. She is a certified SAFe Agile coach and an out and out machine learning enthusiast.