Production companies are on the brink of a new and explosive development, often referred to as Industry 4.0. The preceding three revolutions were the Steam Engine, Mass Production, and Automation, e.g., robotification. Under the headline of Smart Production, this pending revolution is expected to have consequences of the same magnitude – or bigger – as the previous ones. This development is driven by super-scale strategic measures in many countries.
From a technical perspective, Smart Production is formed by advancements in several areas. Here follows some of the most important.
The term Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) denote communication capabilities of production units. Specifically, the ability of networked communication among different parts of production and design facilities. According to e Gartner, the number of networked devices will grow from 6,4 BN in 2016 to 20 BN in 2020.
This development til transform very large domains in both private and public sectors within the foreseeable future. Consumer products aside (in particular driven by mobile devices like smart phones) we already see significant changes in health care, in other parts of public administration, and not least in agriculture and production. Projections are that as soon as 2019, corporate or enterprise IoT (EIoT) will span 40% of the collected IoT. The rest is distributed between private consumers and public affairs.
It is difficult to underestimate the consequences for production companies.
The 3D revolution
Commonly, smart development is linked to advances in 3D production. This typically covers two areas. Firstly, 3D scanning of objects enables fast production of advanced 3D models, ready for subsequent refinement and further development. Secondly, industrial 3D printing is among the most promising technologies of growth. There are several advantages attached to emerging 3D print technologies, or Additive Manufacturing, as it is also known.
- It is possible to print very complex shapes which, in turn, can reduce the number of necessary components.
- Production time is shortened dramatically, and re-design is much easier because the entire process is digital
- Ressource consumption is typically much lower than in traditional manufacturing because you only print what you need. The need for subsequent machining is typically very low.
3D printing should be seen in conjunction with material science. Advances here, makes it possible to print in metals, advanced composite polymers, and in carbon fiber. As with computer technologi in general, both hardware and software show rapid increases in performance while costs race the other way.
The coupling between physical and digital production facilities is often dubbed Cyber-Physical Systems, and refers to the thorough digitalisation of both design and production processes. Thus, Cyber-Physical Systems denote not only the actual machines used in production, but also many other parts of value and service chains. By combining digital and physical properties, the entire process of designing for manufactoring is redefined. The same goes for logistics – both inbound and outbound.
The German “High-Tech Strategy” from 2010 identifies an array of growth areas of national interest, including the integration of cyber-physical systems in production.
The resulting national strategy Industrie 4.0 (in German: vier punkt null) aims at making the country globally leading within design and production. The basic idea is simple: Advances in materials and production tech will reverse the flow of outsourcing. In its place, production should be brought home.
Other contries have since adopted the strategy, typically under the English name Industry 4.0. In the USA massive funding is poured into the co-development of new materials and 3D printing. Collectively, budgets for these strategic efforts are in the billions annually.