[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 16, 2017 / by Emma Longridge
The term, “Industry 4.0” has been getting some real publicity lately. So much publicity in fact, that according to Buzz Sumo analytics, in the past 30 days the keyword has been mentioned across the public web more than 4,000 times. Often times, this phrase will be incorporated with another commonly used term - The Internet of Things (IoT), of which has been mentioned more than 16,000 times. Over a 30 day period, both of these topics have been discussed a grand total of 20,000 times. I need to mention that this does not include social media interactions, comments, or videos. Surely, including this data would push the stats into the 100,000’s. After learning about this, any semi-curious individual would be prompted to ask: why on earth are these topics so important and why do people keep talking about them?
Well let’s start from the beginning. The Internet of Things (IoT) represents the sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects that are linked through wired and wireless networks via the Internet. These sensors act independently to send and receive data to humans and other machines (especially information buses and data stores).
Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth Industrial Revolution, represents the vision of the new wave of “smart factory” technology that is making its way into the manufacturing sector. You can think of Industry 4.0 as a moniker for the connection between humans and machines in a self-learning process. On the the factory floor, an Industry 4.0 driven approach with sensors, software, humans, machines, and robots could take corrective action to avoid damages, prompt repairs, and more.
With these two topics defined, it is often thought that because of the prominence of IoT, these IoT sensors are the end in and of themselves. In essence, it is actually the reverse. IoT sensors are simply some of the piece parts of Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 represents a larger sea change in industrial manufacturing where cyber-physical systems certainly require sensors, but there is clearly a lot more to a successful strategy. A little confused? Here are 3 three reasons why we need to think of Industry 4.0 as the driving force behind the manufacturing digitization movement, whereas IoT is simply a piece in the parts bin.
The Internet of things represents a high volume of sensors and feedback loops that have the potential to convey information and bring value to the manufacturing process. This foundation has been the start of the digitization process for many companies with the hopes that these sensors and their data readings would help human and machines to work harmoniously together. Industry 4.0 thus clearly requires IoT, but it remains a fairly unsatisfying first step for most companies as machines spew data, but none of the steps required to affect change have been put in place.
As the digitization movement continues to grow and gather momentum, it is becoming more and more apparent that Industry 4.0, and not the Internet of Things, is the drive to seamlessly integrate human work and machine work into seamless and unified business processes. The Human-Machine Interface is the key solution to making this happen: IoT-enabled robotic devices used on the factory floor can be configured so that they can act as nodes in the whole system. Connected machinery also contains complex sensors, sometimes more than one per machine, that connect into networks to share information about their statuses providing real-time data about everything from temperature to task completion times. Once this information is combined with data from human work including step completion information, collaborative problem resolution, and challenges encountered during execution, the entire process can be analyzed and improved.
In the end, the situation is comparable to the chicken and the egg discussion. Who came first and who is more important? Sensors are necessary for an Industry 4.0 strategy and they arguably came first. However, a sensor information data stream is not useful if it isn’t combined with the human activity to derive meaning, action, and improvement from those digital signals. The machines in any process will just run until they break, run out of supplies, or are turned off. Humans are still in the driver’s seat of Industry 4.0 and provide the vital function of self-reflection about the work they perform to improve the entire process they work in.
Although there is tremendous value in the Internet of Things, smart factories will need to continue mixing IoT sensor input and continuous data collection from the efforts of human workers (industry 4.0). If you are at all lamenting your investment in IoT, fear not. Complete solutions are coming to market now like Parsable that make the promise of IoT and the vision of Industry 4.0 possible.