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Industry 4.0 Technologies Enabling Industries to Produce More & Waste Less

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By: Anant Saurabh, Associate Vice President, Digital Consulting Services, Tata Technologies

At Tata Technologies’ lab, a simplified version of a modern factory setup uses advanced technology to automate quality control during production. As parts move along the conveyor belt, they are automatically inspected for dimensions, shape, defects, color, and overall condition in seconds. This use of technology, including cloud computing, augmented reality/ virtual reality (AR/VR), data science, data lake, and IoT reminds us of how many industries are still working to fully integrate industry 4.0 technologies to maximize production and reduce waste.

Industries have come a long way from mechanical machinery to automation, and now we are moving towards intelligent, algorithm-powered decision-making. We must start with a clear purpose and ask ourselves why we need to embark on the Industry 4.0 adoption journey. Adopting such technologies can increase productivity and reduce waste beyond normal production. Connected, self-aware products can share information about their health, location, usage level, storage condition, and future state predictions. To keep our ecosystem in an improved condition, we must change everything we do in the manufacturing process. Ray Bradbury’s quote about building wings while jumping off a cliff resonates with our approach towards next-generation industrial revolution technologies while balancing socioeconomic and environmental impact.

The three key pillars needed for this shift are following:

  • Data: managing, dealing with, interpreting the use of data, and Its consequences.
  • Connectivity: enabling virtual global factory – a network of businesses from multiple regions that can resolve issues of connectivity between companies and for the relationship between devices, plants, products, logistics, customers, and the suppliers.
  • The Customer (Made-for-Me): The key drivers of Industry 4.0 are products Made-for-Me, customized to the Individual at the mass production level. Driven through the rise and focus on customer centricity. The combination of the customer’s human input and dynamic data analysis and response may mean that in the future a digital ecosystem will be created whereby human decision is augmented through an algorithm.

In today’s world, increasing efficiency and minimizing waste requires a fundamental shift in our approach, with a focus on the interconnection between socioeconomic and environmental systems. The growing human population and linear economic development models have caused global environmental and social problems. To address this, a global consensus has emerged around the need to transition to truly sustainable, equitable, livable, post-fossil carbon societies, replacing linear economies, based on “take-make-dispose” with concepts such as Cleaner Production (CP) and Circular Economy (CE). The central focus is always on improving resource extraction and usage efficiency in production and services, achieved through systematic approaches that optimize eco-efficiency and minimize harmful components released to soil, water, and air within a life-cycle approach. Cleaner Production focuses on prevention and results in reducing natural resource usage and minimizing waste streams, leading to safer and more sustainable societies and avoiding unnecessary costs.

Circular Economy (CE) is an economic system that replaces the “end-of-life” concept with reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover materials from the production/distribution and consumption processes. It replaces consumers with users and products with product-service systems. Smart manufacturing systems built upon the concepts of Industry 4.0 are increasingly important in improving resource efficiency, product life cycles, and closing the loop on end-of-life products. Industry 4.0 technologies, such as cyber-physical systems, smart production controls, big data analytics, and smart energy monitoring systems, are improving environmental performance by better control of manufacturing processes to ensure top-quality product production while reducing risks to workers, consumers, and the environment.

The circular economy differs from linear production processes. In a linear economic system, raw materials are extracted, products are manufactured and sold, consumed and disposed of, leading to shortages of raw materials, emissions, large volumes of waste, and associated environmental problems. In contrast, in a circular economy, products and materials are kept in circulation, leading to fewer primary raw materials used and products retaining their value for longer, generating less waste. Circular Economy is an integrated approach that considers the cycle from raw material extraction through design, production, distribution, and a maximized use phase to recycling. A change of mindset among all stakeholders is needed for products and materials to remain in the loop.

In Industry 4.0, machines use cyberphysical systems with Human-Machine-Interface to record data and use machine learning to analyze past behaviors. These machines communicate with each other using the cloud and are connected to the Internet of Things to collect and analyze real-time data. Big data analytics is a key technology that will drive organisations towards world-class sustainable manufacturing and positively influence environmental performance. However, it’s important to consider the environmental impact of Industry 4.0, as exemplified by the news of a dead Sealion found on the shore due to e-waste deposition. The adoption of advanced technologies must go hand in hand with sustainable practices and a commitment to reducing environmental harm.

Industrial waste can be classified into several categories, including resource waste due to overproduction, waiting time, unused talents, and defects. These can be minimized through the proper use of data analytics and predictive decision systems. E-waste and Lithium batteries are often disposed of without regard for the environment, but this can be tackled with the use of renewable energy. While IoT has helped monitor energy consumption, the resource utilisation of the monitoring systems is not always tracked. Overproduction has been a long-standing issue, and material and motion waste are also problems. However, integrating Industry 4.0 can improve efficiency, reduce energy use, and decrease working hours, resulting in low-cost production and cheaper products for consumers. With the use of big data analytics, Industry 4.0 can also reduce waste and pollution.

Industry 4.0, a set of advanced digital and physical technologies, creates ‘smart’ factories and processes that require building trust. Despite challenges, potential benefits include reduced delivery time, decreased environmental hazards, and increased efficiency. Embracing Industry 4.0 makes companies more competitive and agile, leading to increased profits and a greener future. While Industry 4.0 affects our identity, privacy, ownership, consumption, and work-life balance, there must be a co-existence between technology and humans. Technology should only handle complex manufacturing situations impossible for humans. As these technologies evolve, it’s crucial to use them responsibly and consider their impact on society.

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