A brainstorm of the German government to promote its acumen in manufacturing and software-intensive embedded systems globally, the more-than-intelligent factory is becoming more than buzzwords. It's becoming disruptive enough to be called a revolution — the fourth industrial revolution in the world, hence the name, Industry 4.0.
(Source: DFKI 2011)
But what is it and why now? Picture this: A product itself talks to a machine or robot, and tells it what to do next in the production process. This smart factory of tomorrow is based on products that will be able to communicate and act autonomously within an intelligently networked production process.
Real and virtual worlds are colliding at the juncture of the Internet of Things (IoT), embedded software, social networking, and autonomous decision-making. It's more than M2M on steroids.
The driving forces today that make Industry 4.0 viable include: punctuated innovation; virtualization; shrinking globalization product lifecycles; and a burgeoning use of embedded software. The industrial segment is shifting toward digital manufacturing. This has been evidenced by 3D printing, which will eventually enable mass customization in the industrial world.
(Source: The European Tooling Platform)
With Industry 4.0, components will be produced in small quantities, and in real time. Production from inception to delivery will be based on unprecedented communications among the parts to be created, other components, companies, and end users.
Intelligent sensors and complex software are the glue of Industry 4.0. The sensors determine location and settings, while the software translates the data into clear and understandable images. With images, where the manufacturing takes place will matter less, as language barriers are minimized when clear images are used.
As a German government initiative, German research arms, academia, and corporations are behind Industry 4.0. Initiatives include such projects as: changeable logistics systems, digital product memory, autonomic computing, and such excellence clusters as intelligent technical systems, cognition for technical systems, and more. Funding is in place for additional projects regarding human-machine interaction, 3D in industrial apps, and production logistics, offering proof that this isn't going away any time soon.
Both German and US-based companies are serious about Industry 4.0. General Electric, Siemens, and Bosch, for example, are leading the way in technologies and projects designed to transform machines, facilities, data, sensor technology, and networking into more than an intelligent robotic floor plan.
Many challenges remain, such as connecting factories from different organizations, and interoperability among sensors, software, RFID, and more. Also the handling of big data and how we share data — but just enough data to not create even more overload — is challenging.
Social channel technologies will move further down the food chain into business processes for greater productivity. Security is a top necessity, not an option, once production is in the hands of products, because there will surely be attacks. Finally, integrating the cloud with legacy systems and traditional software is an important step.
This isn't a simple change in production processes, and it won't happen overnight. However, look at clues involving networking, embedded software, sensing, big data, and more, and you'll see signs of the Industry 4.0 revolution taking place in 2014.
This article otiginally appeared on EDN as part of its Hot Technologies: Looking ahead to 2014 feature, where EDN editors examine some of the hot trends and technologies in 2013 that promise to shape technology news in 2014 and beyond.