Industry 4.0

Mark Grayson
The constantly evolving world of manufacturing is entering another dynamic new phase, where technological advances are set to transform the field.

The most successful players are rapidly adapting their physical and intellectual infrastructures to exploit technology-based opportunities. They’re looking for smarter processes, to become more responsive to changing global markets and to get closer to their customers.

Industry 4.0, a fourth industrial revolution, has landed squarely on the mainstream agenda. The term was coined by German scientists and industrialists, and is now used to describe the next paradigm shift, distinct from the 1970s-onwards production automation leap.

This brave new world of manufacturing will be built around digital transformation that will bring changes in development, production and the entire logistics chain - Industry 4.0 emphasises the linking of all productive units in the product supply chain.

Industry 4.0, a fourth industrial revolution, has landed squarely on the mainstream agenda.

Data-rich, mechanised production processes will shift key competences away from traditional production engineering and operational management to information processing and digital control. The vision is one of factories and machines able to communicate with each other, and with the products they’re making.

These connected and intelligent devices are predicted to be the biggest future user group of the internet. The internet of things (IOT) concept is now shifting from the consumer arena to the industrial. An industrial IOT is a key part of Industry 4.0, changing how production plants operate and permeating the supply chain.

For the manufacturers’ built environment, there are big changes ahead. Spatial changes will be at the heart of future developments, with locations becoming increasingly diverse. Spatial distribution is likely to be influenced by technologies such as 3D printing/additive manufacturing which allow production close to the point of consumption.

The vision is one of factories and machines able to communicate with each other, and with the products they’re making.

For complex products, some manufacturing activities could migrate to larger, more capital-intensive 'super factories', while others could become reconfigurable units co-located and integrated with associated supply chain partners. Smaller, centralised hubs will be the way forward for many. Urban locations closer to the point of consumption may make more sense, with drone deliveries completing the final deployment of products to the customer.

Demand for products at the point of consumption is expected to lead to new developments such as manufacturing at the bedside, for the healthcare sector. Mobile factory sites which can move closer to target markets and remanufacturing sites are already operating in countries such as India.

Reshoring (repatriation of production from low cost locations) could be part of the picture, driven by changing labour availability, transport and energy costs, and a need to be close to the market. On-demand production of highly individualised products will require shorter supply chains in the markets where they are used.

The factory of the future will be able to reconfigure itself rapidly to make a variety of products.

Future-proofing will remain a key concern. Continuing agility, and the need for responsiveness and flexibility, has already created the demand for reconfigurable facilities, and this is set to intensify. The factory of the future will be able to reconfigure itself rapidly to make a variety of products.

Flexibility needs to be incorporated into design from the outset. BIM integration is an obvious step, enabling intelligent building management systems to be implemented, but there is the potential to go much further. Rather than the building simply adapting to changing production demands and controlling the production environment, what if the building worked with multiple data inputs to determine adaptations as demand cycles change and design the adaptations itself?

This would mean a truly interconnected business, with implications for staffing requirements - more software engineers, video game designers and people with the creative vision to push the boundaries well beyond current thinking and into the 22nd century.

Faithful+Gould has a detailed understanding of the way in which buildings, services and infrastructure work together to facilitate efficient manufacturing and distribution operations. While Industry 4.0 may be more evolution than revolution over the coming decade, we are already supporting manufacturing companies as they change their organisations, processes and capabilities.

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