Industry 4.0 Comes Of Age: An Overview, Underview & Preview

Sensors Insights by Mat Dirjish

Overview: What Is Industry 4.0?

A culmination of just about every “marketer buzzword” to date, Industry 4.0 (I4.0) is the keyword given to the latest forms of industrial automation. It encompasses, as you might’ve surmised, sensors of every variety, cloud computing, embedded systems and software, which includes real-time operating systems, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality, and the ever-popular Internet of Things (IoT). If one were to need a truly all-encompassing catch phrase to describe I4.0 it would be the synonym Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

A less romantic fact, the term Industrie 4.0 originally comes from a German government initiative to computerize industrial manufacturing processes, a.k.a., automation. And, simply put, computerizing industrial processes is exactly what I4.0 is. Computers and robots will be running the machines, sensors will be gathering production and operational data, embedded systems will be interfacing all the computers and equipment, and software will collect all the various types of data and put them into interpretable form, little bits of decipherable datum.

Figure 1

Underview: What Does It Take To Be I4.0?

Across the industry, there’s a general consensus as to what it takes to “be all that you can be” in 4.0 industry. Summing things up accurately, Forbes contributing editor Bernard Marr believes a factory needs to meet four criteria to be considered Industry 4.0 ready. They are:

  1. Interoperability: machines, devices, sensors, and people connect and communicate with one another without any incompatibility issues, i.e., software, interfaces, etc.
  2. Information Transparency: the systems create a virtual copy of the physical world through sensor data in order format and organize collected information.
  3. Technical Assistance: both the ability of the systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems and the ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe for humans.
  4. Decentralized Decision-Making: also considered artificial intelligence, this is the ability of computers and the systems they interface with to make simple decisions without the need for human input or action.

Hypothetically, if all your machines, computers, interfaces, networking hardware, wireless devices, software, internet connections, and human resources are on the same page in terms of operations, you can truthfully put Industry 4.0 on your resume, reportedly. However, greater expansions such as automation come with greater challenges.


Preview: What Are The Impedances To I4.0 Advancement?

It’s a no-brainer at this point in time to realize that the more machines and processes you have interconnected with each other, the more events you have to watch out for. And if all your workings connect to the internet, you are bound to have even more challenges.

First up, as always, internet anything has its ever-present companion word: security. In the digital age, there is no escaping security issues. In an automated factory where operation and techniques could be quite proprietary, IP theft is a big concern. After that, hackers who threaten processes for financial gain are a constant threat. Industry 4.0 is opening up great opportunities for security pros.

Second, another no-brainer, reliability and stability of operation is imperative if machines are to operate effectively with little or no human intervention. This is where artificial intelligence will be a key factor in keeping things running smoothly, or making the decision to shut certain processes down if the system is showing signs of instability from wear or if a certain part in a machine is starting to fail.

Figure 2

Third, is an emerging concern that’s starting to see light in the media. That’s the lack of experienced labor to create and implement these systems coupled with a shortage of investors in I4.0 technology. It seems there’s a shortage of tech professionals to fill the new positions these I4.0 factories have to offer (see “To Freelance Or Hire, That Is The Question”).


What You Need To Know And Where To Get It

There’s a lot written about Industry 4.0 and most of it is available on the web. But there is great truth in that wise old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. The best way to get the most accurate and the deepest insights on this topic is one-on-one with the pros in the field. One of the best places to get that one-on-one experience is at Sensors Expo Midwest, where the spotlight will be on Industry 4.0 via a number of resources.

For example, there will be a number educational sessions covering I4.0 applications, strategies, and problem solving. Sessions like “Monitoring IIoT Devices for Improved Reliability and Security”, “Applications for IIoT Embedded Sensors in the Energy Sector”, and “Real-World IIoT in Foundries and Factories: Saving Energy and Improving Operational Efficiencies” all offer a complete education. Checkout the sessions schedule for more titles and info.

There will be two keynotes covering the outer and inner rims of Industry 4.0. On day one, Charlie Catlett, the Director of the Urban Center for Computational Data, University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory will discuss how to use sensors and embedded computation to understand the working of cities. Day two, Supratik Guha, the Director of the Nanoscience and Technology Division and the Center for Nanoscale Materials, Argonne National Laboratory will focus  on the use of sensors and cyberphysical sensing networks.

For more details on how to attend these priceless sessions, visit the Sensors Expo Midwest page. You would also benefit by checking out these Industry 4.0 articles:

Be sure to register soon for Sensors Expo Midwest October 3-4, 2017 in Rosemont, IL. It’s coming up fast. ~MD


About the Author

Mat Dirjish is the Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. Before coming on board, he covered the test and measurement and embedded systems market for Electronic Products Magazine, after which he spent thirteen years covering the electronic components market for EE Product News and Electronic Design magazines. He also has an extensive background in high-end audio/video design, modification, servicing, and installation.