Practical and value-based Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 might seem daunting and expensive, but manufacturers can make it practical without getting bogged down in details.

By Matt Ruth March 31, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Industry 4.0 offers many potential cost-saving benefits for manufacturers.
  • A chemical manufacturer used Industry 4.0 to streamline operations and communications, reducing many inefficiencies.

For some, the words “Industry 4.0,” “digital transformation” and “information technology/operational technology (IT/OT) convergence” sound scary. Over the past few years, those terms have conjured up visions of numerous meetings and significant planning sessions centered on large multidiscipline and cross-functional teams gathering around a long boardroom table. The goal: to hash out and agree via blood oath on the overarching, all-encompassing direction for the future of the OT layer and its “transformation.”

That’s a huge gauntlet to ask manufacturers to run, only to be rewarded with the creation of a long list of projects and improvements that need to be funded and approved.

The good news is getting Industry 4.0 value doesn’t have to be that ominous, heavy or frightening. There is a practical and value-based approach to getting something tangible from Industry 4.0 without the heavy lift of locking in the future of digital transformation. Manufacturers have implemented purpose-driven and innovative solutions that harness the value of Industry 4.0 technologies without running that gauntlet.

Chemical manufacturer leverages Industry 4.0

For example, a chemical manufacturer faced a business problem with an non-automated, non-connected fire safety and suppression system, which dictated someone had to physically check and confirm the pressure of the plant air compressors to ensure the suppression system could react in an emergency. Physical checks meant that the plant needed to staff resources to verify that the compressors were running even when the plant wasn’t operating. It meant high labor costs on off shifts, weekends and holidays, running 24/7.

Wireless I/O modules collect pressure transmitter data

The manufacturer looked to leverage Industry 4.0 to solve this problem. The system’s core revolved around the installation of a number of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) wireless input/output (I/O) modules that were installed to collect information from some new pressure transmitters. The IIoT modules selected were industrially hardened, mounted on a flat surface and ran from a 9V battery thereby eliminating expensive enclosure, conduit and installation costs.

The IIoT modules transmitted via radio to a communication gateway in the production office. The gateway was housed in an office-grade box (it could have been industrially hardened but didn’t need to be based on the office proximity). That gateway plugged into the plant Ethernet with access to the Internet. The gateway houses the logic that determines if an alarm condition exists. Depending on the alarm condition, it executes a series of escalation alerts – first an audible alarm locally with a tier 1 distribution email alert, followed by an expanded email distribution to a broader audience and finally (based on duration and severity) the system blasts text alerts to a preprogrammed set of cell phone contacts.

IIoT notifications are digital transformation

In the case of the new system, problems are immediately sent to the appropriate personnel, allowing for far quicker response times, than the old method of physical “rounds” check and resultant phone calls.

The solution was simple and leveraged the key tenants of Industry 4.0 for a business benefit with a quick return on investment (ROI) while not locking the manufacturer into a larger Industry 4.0 implication.

The overbearing feeling of heavy decisions, paths and planning shouldn’t get in the way of taking that first step of Industry 4.0 and digital transformation to solve problems. It’s easier than it sounds. 

Matt Ruth is president of Avanceon, a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media & Technology,


Keywords: Industry 4.0, return on investment


What benefits can your facility get from Industry 4.0?

Author Bio: Matt Ruth is president of Avanceon.