Delivering on the promise of Industry 4.0

Guest post by Jeff McCann, Director, Customer Solution Centers Innovation Labs, Dell Technologies

Imagine a world where, at some point in the not-too-distant future, workers in a factory don’t go looking for a part, the part finds the worker.

Imagine a world where machines detect and schedule their own repairs when needed. A world where products can be easily reconfigured and customised to meet customer demands. Meanwhile, sub-assemblies arrive at a vehicle assembly exactly when needed.

The truth is that this future is not that far off, and, in some cases, it is already here.

The emergence of a new wave of emerging technologies is spurring a radical transformation across the manufacturing sector – a scale of transformation often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0.

Underpinning this transformation is the power of data. From Edge and 5G through to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, data is revolutionising manufacturing, and is already helping forward-looking enterprises to supercharge productivity, optimise their supply chains and accelerate innovation.

As a global manufacturing hub for the pharmaceutical and med-tech sectors, Ireland stands to gain significantly from using this tool correctly. In doing so, Irish firms can realise the full promise of Industry 4.0 and maintain the country’s status as a competitive manufacturing base into the future.

The power of data

So, what are the breakthrough technologies that can help Ireland remain at the forefront of Industry 4.0 and the changes taking place on the factory floor and beyond?

The explosion in the growth of connected devices is enabling manufacturers to process data at the Edge rather than the data centre. Sensors and other devices can be used on the production floor to monitor equipment, measure temperature and ensure quality control.

The shift to Edge Computing that is now evident is helping companies to access new information that can ultimately improve efficiency within the manufacturing process, minimise waste and become more energy efficient.

According to a recent study Dell undertook, 89% of manufacturing IT executives expect Edge-powered real time automated decision making to be a reality in three to five years. This indicates that Irish firms have no time to lose when it comes to accelerating its adoption.

Meanwhile, the recent explosion in 5G technology has the potential to transform connectivity across a manufacturing facility. With its low latency, 5G is ideally suited to manufacturing applications where analytics drive real-time decision making. Even better, 5G connections require only a simple radio and interface, saving power by reducing multiple compute endpoints, power supply, etc., thereby helping to manufacturers to meet growing environmental impact commitments.

Artificial Intelligence is also helping to drive greater sustainability within the sector. By forecasting energy demand and providing insights to reduce the need for heating and cooling, AI is helping to drive energy efficiency in production facilities.

However, amidst this shift from traditional factories to more connected systems, there will, of course, be added security risks. That’s why it’s crucial that even as manufacturing leaders embrace smarter ways of working, they also integrate security architecture into the process from the very beginning.

By integrating security in this way, the sector will be better placed to harness the full potential of technology, while protecting their data from the mounting threat of cyber-attacks.

Digital-first factories

While manufacturers across Ireland may be on a journey of digital transformation, the sector is now on the threshold of even greater change – changes where factories are not just smart, they are digital-first.

For example, Digital Twin technology is enabling swifter innovation and the ability to respond promptly to changing customer demands. By having a digital representation of something in a virtual environment, whether it’s a machine or a process, you can make changes or improvements with a complete digital picture of the impacts down the line, reducing downtime and helping to ensure manufacturing lines can operate 24/7, 365 days a year.

In vaccine development, twins can evaluate the performance of each process in real time. If a deviation occurs in a process, the digital twin not only anticipates it, it uses Machine Learning algorithms to steer control back to optimal production.

Meanwhile, real-time control and intelligent decision making in automated machines, together with smart human interfaces like AR, VR and neuro-haptics, are improving worker safety and efficiency.

Delivering on the promise of Industry 4.0

For manufacturers facing increasing competition and growing pressure on margins, it’s clear that harnessing the full power of Industry 4.0 technologies offers a range of business benefits.

But from speaking to customers around the country, it’s also clear that firms of all sizes are facing challenges in adopting these technologies. That’s why it is crucial for industry leaders to come together with technology experts such as Dell to deliver on the promise of smart manufacturing and reinforce Ireland’s leadership. This becomes even more important in light of the Government’s Industry 4.0 Strategy 2020-2025, which sets out an ambition for Ireland to be a competitive, innovation-driven manufacturing hub at the frontier of the fourth industrial revolution by 2025.

At Dell, we recently hosted an event in our Customer Solution Center Innovation Lab in Limerick. Focused on the ways in which emerging technologies can support the development of smart manufacturing, the event showcased how Ireland’s manufacturing industry can make better, data-driven decisions with the help of new technologies.

By working in partnership, together we can realise the opportunities of Industry 4.0 and further enhance Ireland’s role as a competitive and innovative leader in the manufacturing space.