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Industry 4.0 and the Age of the Smart Factory

Industry 4.0 and the Age of the Smart Factory

As we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution, we find the connection between business and technology becoming stronger. As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becomes more ingrained in business, we will see more applications of artificial intelligence in the manufacturing environment. Are you ready for Industry 4.0?

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is part of the 4th Industrial Revolution which includes the Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI), along with other technologies. Industry 4.0 represents the evolution of manufacturing from purely physical productions to one which combines the technologies of previous revolutions.

Industrial Revolutions of the Past

  • 1st Industrial Revolution (Agrarian) - Physical labor to machine-driven labor, such as the steam-engine. This mechanized production
  • 2nd Industrial Revolution (Industrial) - Electric power replaced the steam-engine allowing for mass production.
  • 3rd Industrial Revolution (Technological) - The use of electronics and information technology to automate production.
  • 4th Industrial Revolution (Digital and Virtual) - The maturing of automated production by increasing the ability to communicate between industrial, technological, digital and virtual technologies. 

While the fourth industrial revolution is a continuation of the third, it is also a step forward as the technological breakthroughs which drive it continue to have an influence on manufacturing. This growth is represented by fields such as the Internet of Things, Industrial Internet of Things, and a variety of computing technologies including artificial intelligence.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Despite the doom and gloom usually associated with artificial intelligence as portrayed in popular fiction, the main goal of AI research is to create intelligent machines to support manufacturing goals, not take over the world. AI benefits manufacturing by creating smarter machines that increase production, reduce downtime and increase overall profits. Moreover, as the dominance of the IIoT in manufacturing industries grows, so does the importance of AI; as the need for machines to learn how to perform their tasks depends on AI.

Artificial Intelligence and Manufacturing

AI benefits manufacturing in a variety of ways, the most obvious is in robotics. Robotics are valuable in manufacturing due to their wide range of applications. From working in harsh environments to increasing production, robotics are essential for many manufacturers to remain competitive. However, despite their value as a tool of efficiency, an AI-enabled piece of equipment is only as good as it’s programming. Yet there is a way for AI-enabled technology to grow beyond its programming.

Machine Learning and Logistics

We often hear the term AI and think of sentient robots from movies, but the real power of AI is the capability of taking massive amounts of data and finding patterns and making informed decisions based on the data. For example, machine learning can see a pattern that could increase productivity or improve the longevity of a piece of machinery and, if it is connected through IoT technology (more on that in a moment) it could make the adjustments needed on its own.

This technology extends all the way out in every direction, from optimizing the shop floor equipment to predicting and reducing unplanned downtime, increasing the overall quality of the product, and improving supply-chain processes.

Artificial Intelligence and the IIoT

The field of sensor technology is one of the areas the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is well suited for by allowing AI-aware devices to “see,'' “hear,” and analyze their environment. These IIoT-driven interactions allow AI factories the ability to learn which factors, internal and external, can affect their productivity. 

By leveraging the IIoT, AI-driven devices can provide a wealth of information including the status of their own operation. In fact, with predictive machine learning and the IIoT, an AI could shut down a machine that was operating out of tolerance or inform a technician of an issue before it became a problem. 

In this regard, we can think of AI and the IIoT as the managed IT of heavy industry, where instead of waiting for a piece of equipment to fail, you are constantly monitoring for potential issues and are able to schedule maintenance proactively, as opposed to when it is needed; a cost-saving feature.

The influence of Artificial Intelligence in manufacturing is only going to increase, and it is clear to us that any profitable production requires a strategy to utilize AI. If you’re not sure how AI and IIoT fit into your business, you can talk to us! KT Connections’ team of consultants and technicians are familiar with modern technologies - including Industry 4.0. If you’re ready or just seeking information about manufacturing, call KT Connections today at 605-341-3873.

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