Last year at Hannover Fair, lots of people were talking about Industry 4.0. This is a concept that seems to have a different name in every region -- and arguably a different definition, but I’ll come back to that. In the Design News region (we’re a region, right?), I’ve been referring to it as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), not to be confused with the plain old Internet of Things (IoT). Others refer to it as the Connected Industry, the smart factory concept, M2M, data extraction, and so on. You get the idea.
This year at Hannover Fair, we're seeing some concrete examples of Industry 4.0. One step inside the Siemens booth (and the word booth is probably the biggest understatement I've made in a long while) transports you into an automobile manufacturing facility, where even the most delicate operations, like attaching the door to the body, is handled by robots.
One of the keys to making all the big, heavy, and expensive hardware operate efficiently comes in the form of the part that many take for granted -- consistent software integration. Through this integration the various parts can all speak to each other seamlessly, and also speak to the outside world.
Harting is working on the same concept, but from the opposite end of the manufacturing facility. They’re operating at the stage where the finished device is produced, checked, cataloged, etc. They've created a series of RFID products that capture the information on the device under manufacture. By knowing exactly where each device is, what condition it's in, who (or what) has touched it, and so on, you get all the information you could possibly need about each stage of your manufacturing process.
In my discussion with Design News Advisory Board member Scott Hibbard of Bosch Rexroth, I got a better understanding of the difference between the various terms. In the simplest terms, the IoT is about the end device. It could be the FitBit data logger on your wrist, the mobile handset in your pocket, or the pacemaker in your chest. Industry 4.0 and the term Industrial IoT that I coined, on the other hand, is more about the infrastructure. It connects these systems together in an industrial (usually manufacturing) perspective.
According to Intel, the seven major forces that are transforming the manufacturing sector are regulation, digitization, personalization, globalization, software-intensive productivity, differentiation through service, and connectivity. These forces combine to define Industry 4.0.
The Germans take credit for starting Industry 4.0. They claim that the goal of the initiative is to develop smart factories. Not to be lost in all the hype is the new-found efficiency that Industry 4.0 is supposed to bring. Higher efficiency means fewer natural resources consumed, which is great for the planet.
You might ask, as I did, what happened to Industry 1.0 through 3.0? There actually were earlier iterations by the various planning groups, but none ready for prime time. Hence, 4.0.
Call it what you will. We’re all pretty much referring to similar technologies, if not exactly the same one. But the bottom line is that all of it revolves around being connected and the ability to utilize the information we gather.