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Industry 4.0 is here – is your company ready?

Industry 4.0 embraces the world of autonomous systems, smart data and 'machine learning'.

You may have heard the terminology ‘Industry 4.0’ but still be unsure as to what exactly it is, and how it could affect your business. The industrial world is currently in the middle of significant change and development due to digitalised manufacturing. This timeframe has coined the term Industry 4.0, in recognition that it is the fourth industrial revolution that has occurred throughout manufacturing history. Yes, there have been four! Not just the first and most famous one. The first was, of course, the early Victorian industrial revolution that saw mechanisation using steam power and water, then mass production was enabled thanks to electricity during the second revolution, and the third evolved around computers and IT development. Industry 4.0 embraces the world of autonomous systems, smart data and ‘machine learning’. Here are the components that make up Industry 4.0:

• Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

• Internet of Things

• Additive Manufacturing

• Cloud Computing

• Augmented Reality

• Big Data

• AI/Machine Learning

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A combination of automation and connectivity will enable the smart factory to become a reality; and also make them more efficient, productive and less wasteful, contributing to the move for better and greener products and production systems. Some manufacturing businesses, such as Croft Filters, are already embracing Industry 4.0 with advances in production using Additive Manufacturing. Neil Burns, Director at Croft, says, “Technology is a business enabler, so when combined with cutting edge manufacturing processes the impact is dramatic and one that is exciting when you consider the future.” If you are unsure where Industry 4.0 will impact your business, or how quickly you need to adopt it into working practice, here are our top tips for seamless integration.

START SMALL

It can be tempting to dive straight in, but its wise to adopt a softly, softly approach to Industry 4.0 until you know precisely what will and won’t work for your particular sector.

KNOW WHAT YOU NEED

Do you really need X, Y or Z? With all the hype surrounding Industry 4.0, it can be easy to get drawn in and spend time and money you don’t have on things your company doesn’t really need.

IDENTIFY OPPORTUNITIES

Industry 4.0 offers manufacturers the opportunity to optimise their operational systems using connected machines that can analyse vast amounts of data to inform performance, maintenance requirements and other issues in much less time than it would take a human to do. For example, opportunities to upgrade your logistics can make your processes seamless, smoother and quicker, saving you time and money in the long run.

AVOID COMMITTING TOO QUICKLY

With many new products coming into the marketplace, be wary of committing to one too quickly. As with all technical development, its typical to sign up for something, only to find out that another better, cheaper, more efficient version comes out two weeks later. While there will always be new versions to follow, spend some time looking around to get your bearings and find the most useful product or application for you before deciding to commit.

NEW IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER

Just because its hot off the press, doesn’t mean its necessarily better than the system you already have in place. So, its crucial to keep a balance between what will be useful for your business and what is just new to the marketplace.

EMBRACE AI

From robots to 3D printing, AI is now available and affordable for nearly all businesses. Autonomous robots can assist companies with everything from picking goods to shipping, helping reduce costs and completing tasks which used to require the intelligence of human input in a fraction of the time. Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, technology has progressed from prototype to mainstream production with the advances in metal AM, opening up many new opportunities such as smaller runs and bespoke production. According to PWC surveys, two-thirds of manufacturers are already using AM in their processes.

FUTURE REALITY

Although a move to Industry 4.0 technology may initially seem a step back in terms of employment for real people, Forbes states that historically, each industrial revolution has seen an increased demand for skills and the creation of new jobs. So, perhaps Industry 4.0 will actually help increase industrial workforces, especially those in skilled areas. Whatever the outcome, planning ahead will ensure your business is on board and ready to benefit from the advantages – including less waste, environmental sustainability and more efficient processes – that Industry 4.0 offers.