Understanding Industry 4.0: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Posted: June 28, 2023


The world only continues to become more digital, and the manufacturing space is no exception. Often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the term Industry 4.0 is ubiquitous within the automation and industrial manufacturing industries for years. As technology continues to evolve, manufacturing processes become more connected - bridging the gap between what is possible with Industry 4.0 and where you might want to get started with methodologies in your own facility can be challenging. Tapping into years of engineering automation solutions, we intend to breakdown the intricacies of Industry 4.0.

What is Industry 4.0?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, is the latest phase in digital growth within the manufacturing space. The first wave was steam power and mechanization, the second was mass production and electrical powered equipment, and the third was computers and automation. The revolution has now entered the fourth wave, which is cyber-physical systems.

There are four principles to Industry 4.0: interoperability is man and machine connecting and communicating together, information transparency is the visualization and simulation of the real world using information, technical assistance is automating tasks through meaningful data collection, and decentralized decisions involve delegating outside decisions to a higher level of control.

What is the History of Industry 4.0? 

The “fourth industrial revolution” term was first coined in 2006 — before the iPhone — by Germany’s Education and Research minister. However, it wasn’t until 2011, when the idea was more formally presented, that the term gained traction as a buzzword. The current era is characterized by new technologies, increased automation, and improved data to benefit efficiency and productivity in manufacturing.

Despite the consistent growth and change brought about by Industry 4.0, JR Automation has utilized multi-faceted research, partnerships with suppliers and tech companies, and customer collaboration to create equipment in the Industry 4.0 spectrum for years.

What are the Core Segments of Industry 4.0? 

By definition, Industry 4.0 works to leverage the digital technologies to help improve the physical output of manufacturing capabilities. Industry 4.0 can be broken down into six core segments.

Digital Transformation & Physical Systems 

Digital transformation is at the center of, and often the first step, in implementing methodologies of Industry 4.0. The integration of the physical machinery we use each day in manufacturing, to the digital space that allows for the feedback of data and critical business information necessary for planning and operational efficiencies.  

Industrial Internet of Things (IoT)

Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is specific to industrial applications that can be found in most modern, highly efficient manufacturing facilities. IoT acts as that connection point between the physical machinery and equipment used by your workforce, to feed data back into central operations. Gone are the days of pushing a button and relying on human interactions to calculate and track loss rates, quality control metrics, and inventory levels - these components are not connected together to allow for a nearly infinite feedback loop. Leveraging innovative manufacturing software is more attainable now, allowing for the integration of SCADA and MES systems delivers the manufacturer with a more real time view into the facility output.

What are the Benefits of Industry 4.0? 

As a manufacturer, leaning into principles of Industry 4.0 can be beneficial in many ways. From increases in process efficiencies to workplace safety, the major benefits of Industry 4.0 are plentiful.

Increased Productivity & Efficiency 

At its core, Industry 4.0 aims to deliver an increase in productivity and manufacturing efficiencies. With the advancements in industrial IoT and digital manufacturing solutions, the trend moves beyond basic automation practices. Migrating away from manual operations delivers a significant gain in efficiency and productivity. When you consider throughput and loss rates that come from manufacturing in a completely analog mindset, compared to having those machines interconnected and monitored in real-time - the ability to spot errors and opportunities is amplified in your facility.

Improved Safety & Quality 

Industry 4.0 can have a positive impact on more than your operational efficiencies and can be attributed to improved workplace safety. The advancements in manufacturing automation, especially with industrial robots and collaborative robots, keeping the workforce out of harmful situations or reducing the exposure to hazardous tasks and materials can be highly beneficial. 

While artificial intelligence (AI) is not new, the advancements in AI for manufacturing continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Given the onset of digital transformation and industrial IoT, manufacturing facilities can now employ predictive maintenance models which reduce the risks of injury to the workforce by seeing what could be coming around the next bend.

When the safety of your workforce is improved and certain tasks can be removed or automated, this impacts the quality of your manufacturing output. Typically, as a result, the quality of parts being produced improves, delivering a better bottom line.

Increased Energy Efficiency 

Aside from workforce, the biggest cost associated with manufacturing is energy - an area Industry 4.0 also has a positive impact. While automation of manufacturing improves efficiency in production output, this dovetails with optimized production processes. Ultimately those two items can have a positive impact on both your bottom line and the environment as a result. 

Reducing energy consumption by optimizing the process, employing additive manufacturing to reduce waste and energy consumption, matched with automated energy controls for facility operations are benefits of Industry 4.0.

Are there challenges with Industry 4.0? 

Deploying Industry 4.0 into manufacturing does not come without challenges or risks associated with them. By being aware of those potential challenges in advance, allows manufacturers to be better prepared for larger discussions around the concepts and how this can impact the equipment, workforce, and capital necessary to proceed. 

Implementation & Adoption 

The adoption of Industry 4.0 can often lead to up front capital expenditures that need to be budgeted for. This includes consideration given toward the investment into modernization of equipment, or upgrading legacy machines. Integrating new hardware or deploying updated software and network infrastructures are components of Industry 4.0. 

How deep a manufacturer wants to go into Industry 4.0 will also depend on the adoption and embracing of new technologies in the industry or processes. Oftentimes it can feel like an abrupt transition from one system to another, and the migration from legacy systems can layer on a series of change management as it pertains to core business processes and possibly corporate culture.

Skills Gaps & Workforce Training 

Certainly, highlighting the potential for skills gaps or training that is necessary for any new technology, is critical for manufacturing operations. Managing the workforce inside of manufacturing facilities is no easy task, and the added layer of technology being introduced is often cause for concern.

One step to address the skills gap is to set aside resources, both time and educational elements, to ensure the workforce is up to speed on the new systems or operational functions that enable the process to be more efficient.

Having these types of educational processes in place also shows that you are making an investment in your team. Leveling up on manufacturing technology knowledge can also lead to improved employee retention and recruitment efforts in the long run.

Security & Data Privacy 

Security and data privacy is on the forefront of nearly every business these days, and manufacturing should not be naive to the concept. With the proper information and experienced team assisting, reducing those risks associated with connectivity can be reduced.

When systems and devices are connected throughout the manufacturing facility, there is pause for concern around data privacy or an increase in cyber attacks. When considering Industry 4.0 principles, planning for and investing in, more robust measures will help protect the system and integrity of the data.

Being conscious of the industries that components are being manufactured for, allows a facility to better prepare for the compliance necessary for data protection or regulations in any given vertical. Determining who owns and has access to the data is another critical component in minimizing the risks - often one that goes overlooked in manufacturing.

While the industry in general is still exploring the number of use cases associated with this level of connectivity and data collection, JR Automation is committed to investing in Industry 4.0 technologies and best practices that can assist manufacturers in making the transition in a frictionless manner .