Today, digital transformation is typically focused on the enablement of better products, services, experiences, or business models, and at the heart of such transformation is data. Edge AI, IIoT, or on-Device AI are all forms of new technology that are disrupting the traditional way things are done in nearly every industry, including the industrial industry. Industry 4.0 is swiftly underway as IoT and other innovative devices make their way onto factory floors.
Industry 4.0 refers to a new phase in the Industrial Revolution that focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning, and real-time data. The concept marries physical production and operations with smart digital technology, machine learning, and big data to create a more holistic and better-connected ecosystem for companies that focus on manufacturing and supply chain management.
Industry 4.0 is already a large market and one that is predicted to continue to grow at a rapid pace. According to a new report titled, “Industry 4.0 Market, 2021-2028,” the global industry 4.0 market already sits at $116.14 billion. On top of this, the same report projects the market to grow at a CAGR of 16.4 percent, bringing the number up to $337.10 billion by 2028.
It’s no surprise that industry 4.0 is one of the fastest-growing markets out there today, as industrial workers can really get creative when finding ways to leverage the new technology. There’s an endless amount of potential for which these innovative devices can transform a factory and its processes, but here’s ten that truly stand out from the rest.
1.) Human Augmentation
The physical and cognitive augmentation of humans forms another major industry 4.0 trend. The limitations in humans are being augmented with the help of technologies such as wearables and exoskeletons. Thanks to industry 4.0, the nature of human-machine interaction is aligning more toward machine-enabled workers.
One creative use for this technology is already being pioneered by ULS Robotics, a Chinese startup developing an exoskeleton technology platform. Their Exoskeletons usually provide support for the waist, upper limb, with 4 degrees of freedom, and lower limb, with 12 degrees of freedom. Many workers on the shop floor encounter fatigue, weakness, and other physical discomforts due to the repetitive and monotonous nature of their tasks, but the use of exoskeletons on the shop floor helps workers in doing their tasks efficiently while reducing or eliminating any physical strain.
2.) Extended Reality (XR)
XR technologies like mixed reality (MR), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) are already in use in Industry 4.0, from the research and development (R&D) to full-scale production and post-production processes. VR and AR already help in augmenting the design and development process, as with this technology, companies can design models and prototypes without having to waste resources or use time-consuming manual processes.
A US-based startup, VirtuFab, develops an enterprise-level VR tool aiming to assist manufacturing and fabrication teams for product design and pre-visualization processes. Product design requires tight collaboration among team members and extends to multidisciplinary team coordination, and the use of VR for this process enables direct location-agnostic access to the designs. Virtufab also offers a virtual customizable tool belt that enables remote collaboration capabilities, allowing for factories to get the best workers for a given project, regardless of their location.
3.) Big Data & Analytics
Big data is complex and is valuable only when it is captured, stored, and analyzed in a quick and cost-effective manner. Advancements to utilize data for gaining valuable insights into the manufacturing systems, along with the availability of immediate and real-time data, open up opportunities for prescriptive, predictive, and augmented analytics at different levels of a company’s manufacturing facilities.
An innovative function of big data has been developed by Qsee, an Israeli startup developing prescriptive and predictive analytics tools for manufacturers. The software is capable of predicting product quality outcomes for every production batch and even for single products. Downtimes cause unnecessary losses to manufacturing firms in terms of both money and time. Qsee performs root-cause analysis on manufacturing units to identify hidden contributors to low productivity and sends alerts to prevent downtime.
4.) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI and machine learning go hand in hand with big data and are driving innovations across industries and functional areas. AI-specific hardware and new algorithms are being developed to optimize the existing systems and tackle new challenges facing manufacturing. Factories are beginning to integrate AI across their production systems and processes. Advanced AI makes it possible to conduct predictive maintenance, cognitive computing, swarm intelligence, context-aware computing, smart machines, hardware accelerators, and generative design.
The US-based startup Oqton has already developed a creative use for the technology, with its FactoryOS, an AI-powered platform for integrating manufacturing system data in order to streamline factory production and output. The cloud-based platform integrates and uses data from all stages of the industrial ecosystem, such as design, production, and supply chain. Over time, the AI learns continuously from these data inputs to generate critical insights for improving overall productivity.
5.) Additive Manufacturing
Today, manufacturers are constantly searching for new technologies to cater to all aspects of the growing market demand. Additive manufacturing, which started out as a prototyping technique, is revolutionizing and decentralizing production. Hybrid manufacturing aims to integrate both additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing., while the advancement in material science and techniques such as stereolithography and metal 3D printing enables simpler fabrication of intricate structures and complex components.
An innovative form of additive manufacturing technology comes from Exaddon, a Swiss startup providing a metal additive manufacturing system, CERES, which prints at a micrometer scale. Producing micrometer-scale components is challenging with traditional manufacturing techniques such as lithography; however, CERES uses electrochemical technology to achieve micro-manufacturing, conducting the process at room temperature, and eliminating post-processing. The system can print complex metal objects in sizes ranging from 1 micrometer up to 1000 micrometers.
6.) Digital Twin
Digital twin technology creates virtual models of industrial assets by combining dynamic real-time sensing and visualization data. Some of the promising use cases of digital twins include model-driven design, virtual prototyping, virtual system validation, throughput optimization, and evolutionary design. Digital twins today are providing valuable insights into all steps of the manufacturing process.
The US-based startup Gemius has already begun tapping into the potential of digital twins, developing a digital twin solution for various industrial processes. The solution allows manufacturing facilities to standardize meticulous operation and maintenance practices to optimize output. The physics-constrained AI, which drives the Gemius digital twin, provides self-optimized design and operational intelligence. The digital twin utilizes SCADA systems to integrate with operational data, historian software, sensor gateways, and enterprise asset management tools.
7.) Network & Connectivity
Network and connectivity are among the main driving forces in enabling Industry 4.0. A number of technology developments such as edge-to-cloud, gigabit ethernet time-sensitive networks, low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), 5G, machine-to-machine communication (M2M), real-time deterministic ethernet, time-sensitive networking (TSN), ubiquitous radio access, unified IoT framework, and zero-touch networks nudge factories to implement IIoT to transform into Industry 4.0 facilities.
These technologies constantly improve machine-machine and human-machine communication, as well as data transmission. As a result, innovations in this area increase speed, improve security and efficiency, and reduce the cost of network connectivity.
To optimize the use of these new high-speed networks, BehrTech, a Canadian startup, is developing MIOTY, an LPWAN solution standardized by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute for IIoT. LPWAN solutions are ideal for connecting numerous machines in industrial complexes as they have a sufficient range and low implementation costs. BehrTech uses Fraunhofer’s patented Telegram Splitting protocol, wherein a message is split into multiple smaller sub-packets and sent at different times and frequencies.
8.) IoT & IIoT
The machine-machine, human-machine, and human-human real-time connectedness together comprise the internet of things in manufacturing. It includes IIoT, internet of skills, internet of services, internet of systems, and shop floor IoT. The internet of things combines real-time data, machine intelligence, and human skills, resulting in faster, efficient, and cost-effective manufacturing processes.
A Turkish startup, Hubbox, provides a secure industrial remote connection device for manufacturing companies. Currently, machines are still connected through a complex network of wires; however, Hubbox enables wireless connectivity between machines by creating a shop-floor internet of things solution. The device comes with WAN, LAN, and WiFi interfaces and makes use of secure SSL certificates and advanced encryption methods.
9.) Advanced Robotics
Advancements in robotics make the processes in industry 4.0 faster, efficient, and safer The use of robots offers higher precision and agility while improving the capability of rapidly developing customizable robots. Robots also free up time for the human workforce to focus on other non-repetitive or high-value tasks. The most prominent robotic technologies impacting manufacturing include autonomous robots, collaborative robots (cobots), collaborative autonomous mobile robots, humanoid, mobile robots, cloud robotics, APIs, pick and place robots, and robot swarms
One form of advanced robotics already out there to help industrialists comes from Bulgarian startup Giga Automata, which offers a cobot, Animoto. Cobots increase the efficiency of human-performed tasks as they are designed to work alongside the human workforce. Cobots, in general, are easy to set up, flexible, and low-cost when compared to other robots. Animoto specifically has 6 degrees of freedom with a precision of 0.1 mm and carries up to 5 kg of load within a 1-meter reach, with a speed of up to 2 m/s.
10.) Cyber Security, Transparency, & Privacy
Finally, the flow of information due to the connectedness in Industry 4.0 is raising concerns about security, transparency, and privacy. As the manufacturing practices are increasingly becoming personal and customizable, the data management practices done outside and within the shop floor will hugely influence the appeal of the company. The transmission and processing of sensitive industrial data need to be done securely to avoid cyberattacks on critical industrial facilities.
A Spanish startup, Alias Robotics, has developed a robot immune system (RIS), an endpoint protection platform for robots. This solution provides malware protection to robots and robotic components, while the modular architecture of RIS gives the system flexibility and adaptability and caters to a variety of robots. The use of industrial robots in all stages of manufacturing is necessitating innovations like RIS.
Overall, the industrial world is turning upside down from what we once considered a traditional factory floor, but the changes are for the better. As mounting challenges face the manufacturing sector with a major focus on optimizing production and balancing costs, rapid advancements in emerging technologies such as the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and others are enabling companies to tackle these challenges head-on by choosing the most suitable technologies to invest in. And as technological progress continues, it is important for factories and production facilities to be proactive and identify potentially disruptive changes at an early stage.