How Smart Technology Is Transforming the Industrial World

How Smart Technology Is Transforming the Industrial World

This piece was originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of electroindustry.

Simone Gianotti, Business Development Manager, EcoStruxure Industry, Schneider Electric

Whether you call it Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or Smart Manufacturing, the power of technology is being felt throughout the industrial world and fundamentally changing value chains and production methods. Indeed, so great is the change that Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute predicts that smart factories could add as much as $1.5 trillion to the overall output of the industrial sector in the next five years. This is because of the turbo-charge effect of smart technology, which is enabling factories to produce more while lowering costs. According to Capgemini, some industries may almost double their operating profit and margin.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines this new landscape as “fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs.” Convered and connected is another way of saying integrated and collaborative. This is where manufacturing benefits from a multiplier effect as operating and information technologies achieve strength in combination and improve efficiency at all levels.

Manufacturing systems are harnessing the full array of new and emerging technologies. The internet is the foundation, linking equipment, sensors, analytical tools, and people in ever more intricate and resourceful ways. Big data, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 3D printing, predictive analytics: all these things and more are now converging. And with the heightened level of control and oversight that they bring, we can now build a “digital twin” of an entire manufacturing system, and so optimize business performance by creating a real- time profile of a physical object or process.

The one certainty about smart technology is that it will continue to evolve. We are already talking about Industry 5.0, which will focus on the human element. If Industry 4.0 is about machine and system interconnectivity, Industry 5.0 will see human and machine roles blend and become mutually reinforcing and complementary. This will involve so-called cobots (collaborative robots) working alongside their human counterparts to create combined strengths.

Although machine learning and artificial intelligence are driving smart manufacturing, human input is still essential. While new technologies possess great autonomy, humans must provide direction and control—and apart from overseeing technology, they are needed to gather, compare, analyze, and apply data. Technology has a pervasive and growing role, but the key message is that smart factories are empowering the human workforce, not replacing it.

Another important development is the arrival of 5G. It will bring faster downloads and faster responses from applications as a result of lower latency. Sensors will become even more widespread and responsive, and businesses will be able to react to information in real time. A consortium in the UK is now testing 5G technology to assess how it can make smart factories even smarter. Among the possible applications are preventive maintenance and controlling machines remotely.

With Industry 4.0 already here, and Industry 5.0 on the way, it is clear that manufacturers who want to remain competitive must embrace the latest digital technologies. ei

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