Where Industry 4.0 is remaking the factory floor5 minutes
Outside Austin, not far from the SXSW venues where fans held up smartphones to capture major music and tech acts, highly skilled workers were monitoring sophisticated equipment to make the brains of smartphones.
In March, as the music and tech festival spurred new ideas, innovation was also happening nearby at semiconductor factories where robots moved silicon wafers from one machine to another while technicians analyzed performance data to figure out ways to make chips faster, smaller and smarter. And that’s just one example of the evolution of Industry 4.0, the wave of automation and digitization that makes up the fourth industrial revolution.
Promising production gains
From dark factories to advanced robotics to augmented reality devices on hard hats, technology is remaking every corner of manufacturing. And the productivity gains are promising: Companies expect productivity to grow over the next half-decade at a rate 7x the growth the industry has seen since 1990, according to research firm CBinsights.
Already robust, Industry 4.0 network technology, like Bluetooth 5.0 and mesh networks, is connecting production lines and entire factories.
Making sense of sensors
Meanwhile, sophisticated sensors serve as the eyes and ears on production lines and provide other data to plant managers and workers. They can tell operators how fast a piston is going, and the number of cycles it has completed. In other cases, a sensor gauges the rise or fall of pressure so when a robotic arm lowers to pick up an object, the sensor tells the robot and all the equipment relying on that robot that the object has been retrieved.
If that pressure sensor stops functioning, that robot stops work. A stalled robot can halt a major production line, and lead to millions in additional cost. Sensors can also help increase asset life cycles across the plant floor. Sensor-equipped machines connect to wireless networks, collect data and alert crews to maintenance needs on their smart phone or tablet, or in a remote location.
Smart factories need smart tools
Smart tools, such as Panasonic’s AccuPulse® radio tools and qualifiers, enable wireless connectivity with existing plant systems to gather important tool operation data. Smart tools also allow managers to make key decisions in real time and change tool settings on the fly to optimize efficiency, increase fastening accuracy, and reduce human error on any application. Data analytics helps production teams gain greater visibility into processes and identify opportunities for continuous improvement and optimal asset use.
Continuous improvement and optimal asset use are key reasons that manufacturing companies are embracing Industry 4.0 and other disruptive technologies. Indeed, a recent survey on disruptive technologies commissioned by Panasonic found that technology leaders and other execs say hesitating is far riskier than adopting disruptive technologies now. Companies surveyed have already adopted, on average, four of the 12 key disruptive technologies. And almost all companies intend to increase their investment in disruptive technologies.
Unfortunately, the survey results point to hurdles in adopting some of the disruptive technologies that underpin Industry 4.0. Lack of skilled workers is one identified impediment to growth. And it keeps manufacturers from adopting the disruptive technologies that allow companies to stay competitive. Many see lack of skilled employees and lack of expertise for effective implementation as major challenges. The other major challenge: short-term thinking among decision makers.
In a recent interview with Tech Republic, M. Faisal Pandit - Senior Vice President & Chief Digital Officer of Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America, talked about building a data focused IoT organization and challenges companies face. “It's like data, data everywhere, not knowing what to do.” He says sometimes it can be important to narrow the scope.
Beyond machines: wearables
One look at the future of connected technologies, considering the augmented reality (AR) capabilities for projection display goggles for instance, indicates that Industry 4.0 doesn’t end with machines connecting to the factory’s network. AR has the ability to speed up processes through displaying a step-by-step guide of best practices for tasks. In some instances, this type of AR technology could prevent a worker from moving to the next step in a process until the current task is completed properly and with precision.
From machine connectivity to data collection and automation, Panasonic is deeply engaged in these technologies. We believe that connecting them into integrated solutions is essential to creating entirely new experiences.