Mechanisation with water power (Waterwheel) and steam power (Steam turbine) is considered to as the 1st industrial revolution during 18th/19th century. Mass production on assembly lines and electrification is considered as the 2nd industrial revolution that started in early 20th century. During late 1980s the advent of computers and robotics with CAD/CAM/CAE is considered to be the 3rd industrial revolution and now the birth of interconnected cyber physical systems also popularly known as Internet of Things is being marketed as the 4th industrial revolution – Industry 4.0.
The Industry 4.0 will surely be a game changer is interconnecting machines, devices and equipment. I get reminded of the Terminator trilogy, since the ones developing Industry 4.0 intrinsically believing to be intellectually superior to the ones working on the shop floor dirtying their hands, may lead companies investing in technologies that ultimately may be bypassed. I foresee this as a reality, since today with most on my manufacturing clients, the automatic monitoring of the machine utilisation hardly works; there is always a reason – the normally underestimated operators are generally very smart and wouldn’t like to be monitored. Of course, the reality is quite different where the honest purpose of monitoring is either safety or quality.
Even in my corporate role, when I was leading the advance development of manufacturing technologies, Industry 4.0, being one of the areas, we achieved significant success only when either the sole purpose was to better quality and ensure safety. I saw many solutions we had developed in early 2000s being packaged under the recent Industry 4.0 video. I believe Industry 4.0 is just an extension of CAD/CAM/CAE combined with closed loop control for quality and safety related issues.
However, when it comes to operations, where even today in most of the factories manually entered log books, inspection records, lot cards, etc. is a still reality and the HMI: Human Machine Interface for the data entry workstations is mostly through a keyboard and some with touchpads. I believe a technology leap in the HMI space will be needed to seamlessly capture the extremely important “Shop Floor Noises” to reap true benefits from Industry 4.0.
I use a Samsung Note and even with sketching, noting, handwriting recognition, voice input and auto transcription of voice recording, I find it extremely difficult to explain and make notes electronically. I am sure the Setters and Operators will find it even more difficult. I have noted some of the recurring extremely important data for predictive analytics to support in decision making – so that the true potential of Industry 4.0 can be unlocked and it can truly become the 4th Industrial Revolution.
I really wish that the Industry 4.0 brains will focus in enhancing the throughput significantly by eliminating the additional work of the shop floor personnel instead of focussing on automation, normally resulting in surplus workforce.