How data contribute to the 4th Industrial Revolution in Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry, not unlike other industries, is not on the brink of the 4th industrial revolution: it is actually experiencing it right now. Many organizations are currently implementing what’s required to reach the next generation of manufacturing. The role of data and AI in this effort cannot be overestimated.

Stefan Milis, Business Development & Innovation at Sirris

Each industrial revolution has introduced an entirely different way of working which has led to huge benefits. The first industrial revolution was about the introduction of mechanical tools to help in the production. The second introduced mass production. In the third revolution automation became common practice. And the current fourth revolution is all about co-creation, communication between devices an machines and smart automation. It will ultimately also lead to a complete integration, both horizontally (throughout the manufacturing supply chain) and vertically (from ERP to sensors on the floor). This will help you deal with today’s challenges in manufacturing: high salary costs, global competition, the need for differentiation (in terms of quality, cost, lead time, and customization) and last but not least: the war for talent.

This fourth revolution, just like the previous ones, will allow you to make a leap forward in terms of results.  But it differs from earlier industrial revolution in the way and pace at which the revolution is taking place. You don’t need a big bang all-in-one transformation to reach this new stage, a planned and gradual transformation allowing benefits along the journey will also get you there.

The ultimate goal is to become the factory of the future. Such a factory is capable of dealing with increased complexity, generated a.o. by mass customization requirements. It can guarantee fast response times and maximize the ‘first time right’ manufacturing objectives. It will support the operators in their tasks while guaranteeing a full transparency across the production floor. And it will ultimately always be part of a production network.

How to build a smart factory?

To make the factory and devices smarter, you obviously need a huge amount of data and a reliable analytics and AI platform. You want to know what happens, why it happens, what will happen if you don’t intervene, and how you can prevent problems from happening. Or to put it differently: you want to evolve from the observation stage through the analytic and predictive stage to ultimately reach the preventive stage.

Also, in order to create a larger co-creation network involving your suppliers and customers, you need to provide each other insight in your processes and data. To achieve this, you not only need to maintain an open communication and provide the necessary interfaces, you also need a uniform policy on data management and sharing between sites.

An investment in a reliable AI and analytics platform is therefore almost inevitable if you want to be among the survivors of the 4th industrial revolution. The right use of available data will allow you to create this smart factory of the future, and to attract the talent needed to make your factory even smarter.