The advent of Industrie 4.0 in the Czech Republic
If you were looking for one core topic and trend in the Czech industrial market, it’s Industrie 4.0. Each conference of experts, press release, or technical article suddenly looks much better if it includes the all-encompassing subject of new industrial revolution. Should these changes really be called a revolution? And at what progress is the heart of Europe making?
Like a Shakespearean play, many say that Industrie 4.0 is "Much ado about nothing." In the Czech Republic (and in Slovakia) Industrie 4.0 is more like the mythical Mrs. Columbo from the old detective television show: someone everybody talks about, but never sees in person.
Many names, one flavor
There is a general consensus that Industrie 4.0 is primarily an effective marketing name that works very well to promote changes in the name of technical progress. Although industry decision makers often hesitate to implement something called Industrie 4.0, under closer examination of the technical side they discover that many recent investments, mainly to computer systems, have launched this process already. Conversely, no one would likely believe the assertion: "From now on we will manufacture in line with the Industrie 4.0 trends."
How could anyone say that, when nobody knows exactly what such a perfect manufacturing model should be? This is the moment when the higher authority should chime in. Good news is that the first step to define Industrie 4.0 implementation was taken by the Czech Republic too, although a little bit late. The "Průmysl 4.0" national initiative was defined for the first time by Jan Mládek, Czech Minister of Industry and Trade, who also introduced the white paper in September 2015 summarizing the issue. Luckily, it was compiled under expert group supervision, so it covers much more than just a fancy Czech mascot "Lion 4.0." The question that remains is: When and in what form we will see the announced "Industrie 4.0 implementation action plan?"
Changes underway now
Industrie 4.0 already is gradually changing the manufacturing industry. There is a huge risk that we will respond too slowly and lose the valuable competitive edge, because decisions about where to manufacture tomorrow are being taken today. This is confirmed by the recent survey conducted among more than 270 companies in Czech. Results indicate that online interconnections of value-adding processes are a decisive or very important factor for more than half of companies. Large players are realizing this rapid development more than small- and medium-sized companies do. Commenting on the current situation, three quarters of respondents described the digitization in their companies as fully (10%), well (39%), or sufficiently (28%) implemented.
The survey results may lead to a conclusion that Czech companies perceive Industrie 4.0 efforts positively. Based on discussions with market players, the reality isn’t as bright. Vendors are prepared, for the most part. Their solutions are capable of integrating the Industry 4.0 concept into the Czech plant environments; however, they are not that much interested in doing so yet. Unfortunately, there are still a number of cases (typical in the Czech way of thinking) of unwillingness to make any change. Where does the hesitation originate? As with many prior developments, misunderstanding is the culprit.
Revolution vs. evolution
A frequent and philosophical question remains: Is this a revolution? Technologically speaking, these changes are generally considered resulting from industrial systems evolution in recent years. This school of thought tends to promote the term evolution rather than revolution. However, the pace of such changes (if Moore’s Law is to blame) really intensifies.
Mobile technology development and the ability of machines to talk to each other, combined with the advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Internet of Services (IoS), are really changing the face of manufacturing. Moreover, competitive globalization forces profit-hungry companies to take the advantage of all the benefits coming from deployment of automated and robotic workplaces.
This vision won’t fully materialize anytime soon. Despite the wishes of many, just having technologies readily available will not be reflected in the massive influx of investments.
Remember, the first industrial revolution was not achieved in one day either. Future generations will likely claim the revolution status as they implement 4.0 factories.
And this might be the core issue. Why do these changes occur? Whether deemed a cause or effect, the underlying factors are human behavioral changes. Industrie 4.0 relates to advances in technology, but humans still must have a place in the factory of the future.
How much for machines?
It’s a justified claim that machines should take on work that is difficult, repetitive, and can be harmful to health, the workers of the future are expected to handle mentally more demanding tasks. Although advances in construction and control of machines will play a role (mostly in simplification and to accommodate habits of the future generations of workers), the changes must begin now.
Actually, the Czech Republic already faces a lack of experienced workers (not to be discussed publicly due to the rate of unemployment). Generation X is to be replaced with Generation Y, and it appears there is a serious lack of them. Without some n-th revolution, mainly in education, and if we fail to get the future generation excited about technical matters, it might be inevitable for machines to substitute humans’ abilities and handle it all by themselves. And then, what purpose will be left for us humans?
Digital plant progress
Czech Republic enterprises owned by German companies are deploying Industrie 4.0 the most. Any visitor of the Škoda plant in Mladá Boleslav can spot the technology elements of the smart factory: automated warehouses, robots cooperating with humans, and digitization of the manufacturing process, along with elements of the Internet of Things concept. The same applies for the Bosch Diesel plant in Jihlava, where an Industrie 4.0 project aims to monitor vibrations in machine tools and report deviations that can indicate upcoming faults.
However, all of this can be found in other plants, without necessarily being named Industrie 4.0. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the fourth industrial revolution isn’t in progress, although, as a matter of semantics, we should rather call it the industrial evolution. Thus, Industrie 4.0 is not like Mrs. Columbo who everyone talks about but no one ever sees. More likely, we’ve met her already. Maybe we even know her well. We just have not been introduced to her real name.
Lukáš Smelík is managing director of Control Engineering Czech Republic. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, email@example.com.
- Industrie 4.0 implementations are happening now, even if not to some ideal model.
- Those using Industrie 4.0 concepts are adding value now, helping with the skills gap, even if people aren’t necessarily calling it Industrie 4.0.
Industrial connectivity can offer benefits, no matter what you call it.
See other coverage at www.controleng.com/international.
Link below to other IIoT coverage in the Control Engineering March issue.