In the future, the pervasive networking of people, things, and machines will create completely new manufacturing environments. By Sebastian Webel
Manufacturers, researchers, and governments are working together to explore and implement the vision for tomorrow’s networked factory.
This vision, now known as Industrie 4.0, is said to have been first articulated in Germany, but the idea has caught on around the world. But what are the forces driving this development?
Here are seven things worth knowing about Industrie 4.0 – facts and ideas.
One: Why the name Industrie 4.0?
The first Industrial Revolution was triggered by the introduction of the steam engine and the mechanization of manual work in the 18th century, while electrified mass production drove the second Industrial Revolution in the early 20th century.
The third followed in more recent decades as a result of the use of electronics and computer technology for manufacturing and production automation. The real and virtual worlds are now beginning to merge in production, which is why we’re talking about Industrie 4.0 – the Siemens term for fourth Industrial Revolution.
Two: From big data to smart data
Increasing digitalization and networking is changing the entire industrial production chain, and the volume of data worldwide is exploding. The total amount of data worldwide in 2005 was 130 exabytes, and that amount had grown to 462 exabytes by 2012.
Experts expect the volume of data to grow to 14,996 exabytes by 2020 (roughly equivalent to about 15 trillion gigabytes). In order to properly analyze and be able to use such huge volumes of data, we must first develop systems that enable us to understood their content.
A precondition for this is to know how devices and systems function and which kinds of sensor and measurement technology can be used to access the most useful data.
Three: Data-driven manufacturing
Market researchers anticipate that thanks to industrial automation, global sales in this area will increase from around €160 billion in 2013 to approximately €195 billion by 2018. German industry alone will invest approximately €40 billion annually in Industrie 4.0 applications by 2020.
In Germany, the industrial share of total economic output is already more than twice as high as in Great Britain, France, or the USA. Digitalization will essentially determine the success or failure of German industry.
Four: Faster, more flexible and efficient production
As a result of Industrie 4.0, in the future billions of machines, systems, and sensors worldwide will communicate with each other and share information.
This will not only enable companies to make production significantly more efficient, it will give them greater flexibility when it comes to tailoring production to meet market requirements.
Five: Merging worlds
With Industrie 4.0 the physical world is merging with the virtual world. PLM Software from Siemens is an example of how this can work.
The software is used to virtually develop and extensively test products before even a single screw is turned in real life. With this technology, products reach the market as much as 50 percent faster, with at least the same level of quality achieved without PLM.
This is possible thanks to simulation with a digital twin – a virtual image of the product into which different designs of its individual components can be inserted and tested along the entire development chain.
This approach was used to simulate the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover in 2012. The landing was tested 8,000 times using Siemens PLM software.
Six: Self-organizing factories
Information technology, telecommunications, and manufacturing are merging, as the means of production becomes increasingly autonomous. Yet it is impossible to say exactly what smart factories will look like in the future.
One possible scenario: In the factory of the future, the machines will organize themselves to a great extent, delivery chains will automatically assemble themselves, and orders will transform directly into production information and flow into the production process.
Yet people will remain essential in an Industrie 4.0 world – as the creative leaders and thinkers who will use their intelligence to conceive of all the processes and procedures in advance and who will write software to convey that information to machines.
Seven: Already a reality
Whether they involve digital planning methods (virtual reality), 3D printing, or lightweight robots, new technologies for Industrie 4.0 are already a reality.
Siemens’ plant for industrial controls in the Bavarian city of Amberg is already considered to be the company’s most state-of-the-art plant worldwide. There, products and machines communicate with each other, enabling the products themselves to control their production.
One result is that in the same amount of production space and with a workforce that has changed only slightly in number, the plant has increased its production volume eightfold in the past 20 years. Humans and machines are eight times more productive today than 20 years ago.