The time has come for manufacturers, big and small, to understand and embrace the evolving production models, materials, and technologies of smart factories. Industry 4.0 is helping manufacturers increase business value by enabling a more connected, cost efficient, responsive, and quality-driven production process.

Centered around a heightened emphasis on digitization and connectivity, Industry 4.0 is founded on four primary building blocks:

  • Automation & AI
  • Digitization
  • Connectivity
  • Big Data

Through these four areas of focus, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will be defined by factories going digital and using innovative process automation technologies, powered by technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine vision, advanced system integration for real-time data capture, and complex data analysis.

Automation 

It’s not a particularly well-kept secret that the factory floor is fertile ground for automation solution deployment. Factory automation solutions offer manufacturers significant benefits, including lower overhead, increased capacity, and higher product quality, but those represent the low hanging fruit. Manufacturers looking to take full advantage of innovative automation technologies will incorporate advanced technologies in their production lines.

Case in point is machine vision and AI. Machine vision allows for high resolution cameras to capture high resolution images, while AI software can rapidly analyze data from cameras and sensors to make decisions that help optimize production. Advanced automation solutions that utilize such technologies enable a level of precision that cannot be achieved by conventional manufacturing, while increasing takt times.

Along the same lines, the integration of metrology and inspection into advanced manufacturing, while challenging, dramatically improves product quality by often enabling 100% inspection. This level of automation and inline integration requires an automation partner with experience and advanced capabilities. At DWFritz, we regularly solve our clients’ most challenging problems by automating solutions previously believed to be un-automatable or by delivering an automation solution that cannot be efficiently performed manually. Our deep experience in automation, metrology, inspection, and precision assembly uniquely positions us to address a glaring hole in many companies advanced manufacturing strategy. By fully automating production lines, manufacturers will reap the full potential of Industry 4.0 technologies to meet production demands and reduce scrap.

Digitization

In the broadest terms, digitalization represents the idea of having every physical aspect of your manufacturing enterprise also exists in the digital realm. Many businesses have already embraced and reaped significant benefits from digital product design. Many also have a strategy in place for digital prototyping or simulation.

In the realm of production, advanced ERP systems, digital knowledge management systems, and digital factory simulations all provide opportunity for faster and more accurate execution. But what about your factory’s actual performance? Quality checks, process monitoring, process capability studies, and other tools all provide incomplete or indirect assessments of your factory’s actual performance.

The concept of the “digital twin” is becoming more prevalent in the factory. Digital models of the factory enable powerful simulations that help design advanced factories, production lines, and can also determine efficiencies and scalability. What if you had the capability to apply the digital twin to 100% of your factory’s production?

From a narrower perspective, today the “digital twin” is increasingly being applied at the product or part level. A dense point cloud consisting of millions of data points? A full surface roughness map? And all at speeds that will not slow down your production line?

Imagine the possibilities – being able to fully unlock the possibilities of zero quality escapes; optimized and intelligent predictive equipment maintenance program; ability to quickly and effectively stamp out process variation by not just teasing factors out of tests or samples, but having access to 100% of every dimensional inspection of all of your production. A 100% seamless integrated digital data set from initial concept to the final product leaving the dock?

Many manufacturers already integrate digitalization into their production processes, using digital renderings of component parts, assemblies, and fixturing in their digitalization strategies, but most still struggle aggregating this data into a total production process simulation. Our ZeroTouch® line of metrology platforms is designed to overcome this challenge. By creating a dense 3D point cloud, or digital twin, of the product, ZeroTouch enables advanced manufacturing capabilities within the smart factory.

Connectivity

Connectivity in the manufacturing process is nothing new. Most facilities already host a series of ERP, MES, and machine data systems handling a variety of tasks on the shop floor. Introducing automated systems into an existing infrastructure of legacy systems requires seamlessly connecting these disparate systems across platforms for a holistic, end-to-end production system. This convergence of the digital and physical world offers both opportunities and challenges.

The connectivity layer continuously pulls traditional data together with new sensors (IIoT) and location-based data streams, enabling real-time collaboration across systems, departments, suppliers, and customers to learn and adapt to new demands. Smart factories that invest in advanced connectivity of these systems can use this data to drive manufacturing, maintenance, inventory tracking, digitization of operations and many other tasks. This rapid data collection allows for greater optimization of resources and systems, improved asset uptime and production efficiency, and increased automation of material handling, metrology, and inspection tasks.

DWFritz engineers design custom software to integrate data streams from arrays of sensors, machine vision systems, and artificial intelligence to drive robots, processing equipment, and precision material handling systems. With the advent of 5G-capable systems and real-time edge computing, 3D point clouds can be transferred with minimal latency to data-intensive, in-process applications. This wave of connectivity will intersect the factory and enhance real time information processing, and decision making on the factory floor.

Big Data

The impact of big data on factory management and production cannot be understated. Smart and connected factories generate a lot of data. Collecting, securely storing, and analyzing these data streams from various manufacturing facilities is a critical factor in optimizing production and building up efficiencies.

Each component and system on the manufacturing line is generating data that needs to be processed rapidly, including metrology and inspection systems. Intelligent sensors, real-time-capable signal processors, and high-performance data processing enable new ways of managing the flood of data to run factories more efficiently and effectively. By leveraging gigabit connectivity and edge computing standards, big data can help not only consolidate information from data lakes (individual factories) and ponds/streams (edge computing), but also data oceans (cluster of factories), allowing companies to run manufacturing at a global level across multiple geographies and time zones.

From all of this data, manufacturers can assess the status of production, and build more efficient supply chains and production plans. Such improvements include performing more proactive preventive maintenance to minimize downtime, reducing waste through improved process control, and storing measurement data on incoming materials, production processes, production conditions, and more. While managing this mountain of data can be an intimidating task, the end result of this effort is a higher quality product produced at a lower overall cost.

Coined by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2016, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. Industry 4.0 really refers to manufacturing-oriented advancements, similar to how Service 4.0 refers to the Service organization advancements.

Industry 4.0 can be described as a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical and digital worlds, and impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries. Driven by innovations in robotics, automation, telecommunications, cloud computing, big data, and AI, Industry 4.0 has transformed manufacturing, supply chains, and product innovation, and the tremendous impact on quality improvement and monitoring is just the beginning. Quality 4.0 is about synchronizing quality management with the 4IR to bring about efficiency, productivity, and innovation. And, DWFritz is at the forefront of these industrial transformations that the world is currently witnessing.