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Industry 4.0 – Smart manufacturing is the engine behind the revolution

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Over centuries, the world has been shaped by major Industrial Revolutions that have transformed industries. Mechanization based on water and steam engines, mass production based on production lines and electricity and then electronic and IT leading to an automated production drove revolutions in order, and each cycle was substantially shorter than the last one. Now, we are on the cusp of yet another Industrial Revolution – Industry 4.0 – and it is driven by intelligent and digitally networked systems, sensors, robotics and machine-to-machine-to-person communication.

With smart manufacturing at the heart of this revolution, industries and consumers around the world are evolving and transforming. Shop floors and factories are undergoing massive restructuring. In an ever-expanding circle, this is not only changing products and services, it is also altering the consumption habits and market forces for them. A report by market research firm, TrendForce, also states that by 2020, the aggregate global size of the smart manufacturing market will easily cross USD 320 billion.

Automation is driving the rise of smart factories

The key to smart factories and manufacturing is the integration of diverse types of technologies. This translates to the connectivity between all the equipment and machinery inside a factory, and even to the market that surrounds it. Industry watchers call this M2M (Machine-to-Machine) communication, but it is much more than that. As per this concept, every machine, tool and person in the factory can talk to each other and work together towards the improvement of traditional processes.

The power of Industry 4.0 is now more obvious than ever. Thanks to the influence it generates, traditional production and distribution models have been completely revamped. Assembly lines have been transformed to deliver efficiency, productivity and faster payback time. Supply chains have also evolved drastically so that products can be customized as per specific customer needs and with higher than ever quality assurance. Manufacturers can now ensure that these products reach further and faster. Inventory management has also become simpler than ever. Ultimately, every industry is affected by this as smart manufacturing provides the ability to control and respond to consumption habits in real-time.

Manufacturers are thus facing a whole new world of opportunities. At the heart of this transformation is data. So the most important thing for connected shop floors is the collection, analysis and management of data. This requires the development and deployment of infrastructure to manage all this, and this can be done with the help of innovations related to data applications, edge computing and cloud-based services.

Converting customers into fans through customization

We have entered a brave new age where businesses have seamlessly merged physical and digital worlds. With no clearly distinguishable borders anymore, producers and consumers are operating in greater sync than ever. As a result, infrastructure that is agile, adaptable and resilient is constantly being built and tweaked. Its end goal – to deliver customized goods and services for consumers and thus convert them into brand advocates.

By keeping this goal in mind, manufacturers can shape the future of smart factories. They can deliver smarter and better products to consumers who are more knowledgeable, demanding and connected than before. Manufacturers now know that this can only be achieved by delivering solutions faster and better than anyone else. They can do this by integrating hardware and software solutions with effective AI and data analytics technologies on the shop floor and beyond.

All this and more has been made possible by advancements in technology that are driving Industry 4.0 with Additive Manufacturing being a key driver behind the digitalization of manufacturing. Several of these technology megatrends are coming together and maturing at the same time now, and this is a great window of opportunity for everyone involved. A relevant example of this is the rise of industrial 3D printing production processes. Also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), it makes it possible to enjoy a whole new degree of freedom during the manufacturing process.  It allows manufacturers to build components that could never be made with traditional methods. AM also increases the agility and flexibility of production chains to ship goods to all corners of the world at the same time. What this results in is a factory of the future that constantly adapts to changing market scenarios and requirements.

Not to forget that these changes are surfacing along with a visible change in mindset. Today, the industry is witnessing a whole new set of opportunities with AM offering more freedom of design right from the start as against conventional technologies .

Conclusion

Industry 4.0 is leading to some clearly visible and measurable benefits such as lower costs, more efficiency, easier inventory management, lower payback time and enhanced productivity. All this is done through the deployment of advanced technology in a strategic and intelligent way. Benefits of this industrial revolution can also be felt in developing nations such as India, where previous technology breakthroughs have been skipped. The end result? Shop floor professionals and manufacturing players get to operate in the factories of the future and improve their business and growth while giving consumers exactly what they want.

Authored by Anand Prakasam: Country Manager -EOS India


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