The new industrial revolution: the Smart Factory
Nowadays there is a clear global trend focused on strengthening the industrial production capacity among the main worldwide economies, as a result of the last advances in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Some of these advances give new chances to increase the productivity and efficiency in production plants. One of the main approaches in this global trend is “Industry 4.0”. World industrial leaders such as Germany are fostering this trend.
The massive manufacturing began with the Ford Model T. The key factor in its success was the right decision of limiting the production to a unique model and colour: "Any client could have any colour, as long as it is black", said Henry Ford, the creator of this model. The present situation is completely different. Several alternatives, options and configurations allow to create high customised vehicles, almost the only one of its kind.
The Industry 4.0 concept is one of the answers to the new needs, increasingly more common in the market, focused on the product customisation where the production must be adapted to very small lots or even to units. The automatic and flexible adaptation of the production chains is compulsory to answer to these needs. The improvement of the communication between the machines is essential to achieve this goal, including new mechanisms of data collection and analysis, and totally new forms of interacting and operating in factories, even allowing the coexistence of persons and robots. This way, we will have a smart factory able to streamline the production in any moment, something that will allow to the emergence of new types of services and business models.
In this whole process underlies the need of making the physical world closer to the digital world allowing the development of smarter machines or production plants able to exchange information automatically in order to transform definitely the industry towards the Smart Factory.
In the Industry 4.0 trend not only the machines and the automatisation will be important but also the persons who will have a determinant roll in this new scenario. The development of a new generation of interaction mechanisms between persons and machines is necessary, apart from advancing in the technologies which will allow to reduce the distance between the physical and digital world. The traditional operation mechanisms with machines must give way to new forms of communication where the advanced graphic interfaces, mobile devices or natural interaction allow to optimise the manufacturing processes.
It is increasingly important and it will be even more in the future, to offer the operators flexible mechanisms of continuous training and tools to access and process data, such as augmented reality or visual analytics, which are able to provide contextualised information and therefore assist them in their decision making processes.
The Industry 4.0 will offer new possibilities to increase and improve the productivity and foster the emergence of new business opportunities which will allow to ensure the manufacturing future in the most advanced economies.
Dr. Iñigo Barandiaran
Director of Industry and Advanced Manufacturing