Guide

Industry 4.0: What it means for your business

Industry 4.0 technologies

Industry 4.0 is fuelled by the developments in automation, robotics and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). These technologies, alongside cloud and data analytics, form the building blocks of the next industrial revolution.

Below, we explain the nine fundamental technologies that drive digital transformation. For a more basic introduction into how Industry 4.0 works, see what is Industry 4.0.

Industrial Internet of Things

IIoT is a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) aimed especially at industrial applications. It refers to a network of physical objects, equipped with connected technologies such as sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID).

These technologies collect real-time data about the condition and performance of the IoT objects, for example, data regarding movement, location, temperature, state of health, etc. IIoT typically requires integration into corporate software such as manufacturing resource planning, product lifecycle management or asset management software.

Big data

Big data refers to large and complex data sets often generated by IoT devices, or by cloud and enterprise applications, websites, sensors, etc. This data often exists in different formats, sometimes making it difficult to capture, store, analyse and convert into actionable business insights.

In the context of Industry 4.0, data analytics and machine learning can be used to interrogate this vast amount of data and provide insight that can help, for example, support real-time decision making, predict machine failures or detect possible cyber breaches.

Cloud computing

The term cloud computing describes a way of storing and accessing data, software and services on remote servers over the internet. It enables companies to use computer resources without having to develop the required infrastructure on their premises. Cloud capability allows you to access or process data whenever and wherever you need it, including across sites and company boundaries.

In Industry 4.0 setting, cloud can deliver real-time information and scalability, and support a multitude of connected devices and sensors along with all the data they generate.

Autonomous robots

The use of robotics in manufacturing isn't new. However, Industry 4.0 is giving it new life. A new generation of robots is emerging that boast greater speed, accuracy and autonomy. These advanced robots are capable of learning from their environments, interacting with one another and working safely side by side with humans as collaborative robots or 'cobots' - designed to free workers from repetitive and dangerous tasks.

As the technology matures, these robots will become more affordable and will expand their range of capabilities and industrial applications.

Simulation

Much like robotics, computer simulations aren't entirely new although the advent of Industry 4.0 is making them more widespread. Activities like 3D modelling and simulation of product development or simulation of production processes allow operators to, for example, run tests on virtual models or drive down machine set up times by optimising machine settings in the virtual world before the actual physical changeover.

Horizontal and vertical integration

Horizontal integration refers to the integration of IT systems and information flows across production and business planning processes, taking in the full value and supply chain from supplier to consumer. Vertical integration seeks to integrate IT systems at various hierarchical levels by connecting diverse systems from field level and shop floor, through production and operations to enterprise planning level.

In Industry 4.0, these cross-company networks are expected to evolve and enable truly automated value chains where different departments, functions and capabilities are much more cohesive.

Cyber security

Increased connectivity is integral to Industry 4.0. However, it can leave businesses exposed to cyber attacks, theft or damage, as well as the risk of network or process disruptions due to software errors, device failures and misconfigurations.

Cyber security utilises technologies, processes and controls to protect critical industrial systems, networks and connected machines, as well as sensitive personal or business data, from this unwanted exposure.

Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) systems bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds by superimposing data and virtual images onto a physical object. They can support a variety of services across different fields, including rapid prototyping, design, maintenance, assembly, skills development and training.

You can use AR applications to:

  • create digital overlays on handheld devices, such as smartphones or tablets
  • display schematics on real-world objects via projectors
  • show graphical data via immersive head-mounted displays

As the VR/AR capabilities mature, companies will be able to make broader use of these to provide workers with real-time information to improve decision making and work procedures.

Additive manufacturing

Known also as 3D printing, additive manufacturing uses 3D models to create parts with a 3D printer. For decades now, 3D printing has been used for prototyping. However, in recent years, the greater affordability of digital scanners and printers has grown additive manufacturing into an increasingly valuable technology across virtually all industries. It offers a wide scope of possibilities, from rapid prototyping and tooling to mass customisation, allowing complex designs to be made in significantly less time and at reduced costs.

Under the umbrella of Industry 4.0, these nine technologies can potentially be used separately or in combination to create business value and improve business outcomes. To find out how, see examples of digital innovation in business.

You can also read more about the business benefits of Industry 4.0.