Take a step-by-step approach to Industrie 4.0

Companies that a take a pragmatic step-by-step approach to Industrie 4.0 are the most likely to realize its potential benefits for their operations.

By Mike James February 10, 2017

Technology hypes are often followed by the trough of disillusionment. But it is sometimes only during these points of uncertainty that we can reflect and get realistic about what we can actually achieve. When it comes to the fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industrie 4.0, taking a step-by-step approach seems the most sensible way of making it a reality. A manufacturing plant already has some of our five senses, plus some which we do not have-metal detection in foods, for instance.

In principle, we use these senses to ‘sense the state of the process’ and the control systems react in a closed-loop process. However, the data we receive from the senses could also be used to think. This is different from a closed loop-process. Thinking is when data is turned into valuable information and acted upon, even when there is a level of uncertainty.

This should sound familiar. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCSs), embedded control and supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADAs) have been acting in closed-loop systems for years.

The next step, though, is turning all of this small data into Big Data. We want to mash it with information from manufacturing and business systems like manufacturing execution systems and enterprise resource planning. By combining all of this information we can create extra senses that help us to automate decisions and answer questions such as "what shall we produce next?"

The idea is that the systems eventually become predictive and self-learning as increasingly complex decisions are taken. Other next steps towards achieving Industrie 4.0 include developing intelligent networks like automated driving, which will decide where and when data is used. Don’t forget that introducing vision, identification, positioning and location systems will inherently increase our ability to sense and make intelligent decisions.

It’s important to not only build the foundations for Industrie 4.0, but to also make sure there is a return on investment every step of the way. Performing manageable projects will help make investments effective. Other steps include adding new materials, manufacturing techniques and methods such as 3-D printing, but make sure that each investment is part of an overall roadmap. 

Mike James is chairman for MESA International Board of Directors. This article originally appeared on MESA International’s blog. MESA International is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com

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