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  • By Rab Scott
  • In Blog
  • Posted 20/09/2018

There’s an old Chinese curse that says: “May you live in interesting times.” By that standard, we're all cursed right now. We had Industry 3.0, which was about manufacturing with IT. During that period, we got the likes of CNC and robotics – but it was all very siloed. Industry 4.0 is bringing those siloes together, giving us better visibility and more informed decision-making.

We’re now reaching a tipping point when it comes to the fourth Industrial Revolution, and the key question is: “How do we plan our approach and make the right decisions?” Here we look at the opportunities and challenges, and how to navigate them.


Technologies to watch

The most common introduction to Industry 4.0 is via technology. The media is full of Factory 2050, Big Data and the Internet of Things, and a natural starting point is considering what smart technology you can integrate into your processes.

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In 2017, the UK Government released its Made Smarter Review, an independent look at industrial digitisation. The report identified 5 priority digital technologies:

  • 1. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics
  • 2. Additive manufacturing
  • 3. Robotics and automation
  • 4. Virtual reality and augmented reality
  • 5. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connectivity

Importantly, these technologies aren’t just for engineering applications – there are opportunities for all sectors. For example, we’re seeing developments across additive manufacturing of houses, 3D-printed food and AI-driven chatbots.

There are the headline-grabbing innovations, like so-called co-bots, or collaborative robots, where people work alongside robots. The co-bots act as a third hand holding that awkward piece of equipment, or they take care of repetitive tasks in collaboration with the more complex ones carried out by humans.

And there’s also the ability to bring legacy technology into the Industry 4.0 age. At MACH 2018, the AMRC exhibited a 1970 Bridgeport milling machine and a 1956 Colchester Bantam lathe with retro-fitted sensors linked to dashboards – a perfect illustration of the fact that this is an evolution as much as a revolution.


Overcoming the data challenge

With this technology-driven approach, businesses quickly find themselves grappling with data-related challenges. Sensors and smart technology generate increasing amounts of data, and you quickly realise that data itself has no value – not until you can extract usable knowledge from it. Until you can apply the right knowledge in the right place, data is actually more of a cost because you have to store, structure and maintain it.

That’s where the challenge comes in. When you have real-time data, you have insight – you know what a machine is doing right now. You can combine all your insight and have hindsight that gives you a clear picture of what has happened. You want to use that insight and hindsight to inform the future – to develop foresight. But there’s a problem with confidence. With current and historical data, there’s an in-built level of confidence, but with foresight, there’s that element of uncertainty.

This is where simulation and digital twins come in – they give you focus and strategic direction, so you’re not blindly fishing in the data lake. Instead, you’re in a position where you can confidently make decisions about future activity.


Simulation is the compass guiding your Industry 4.0 journey

There are lots of different simulations in different fidelities available, and they all make valuable contributions to business decision-making.

At the asset level, predictive maintenance is the most common example. You can see that a machine is going to fail in 5 ways, and you can act pre-emptively to maximise uptime and productivity. You can also use digital twins at the operational level to emulate processes. This helps you diagnose bottlenecks and identify performance improvement opportunities.

And then there’s the predictive digital twin, which gives you that crucial foresight by letting you test different scenarios and gamify decision-making. This is where you can analyse your value chain, test digital transformation ideas and experiment with technology integration. Predictive simulation, using solutions like WITNESS, gives you confidence in your foresight. You can virtually prototype any decision in a risk-free environment, so you can concentrate assets, resources and materials in areas that will actually succeed.


The key to smart business and technology investment decisions

New technologies undoubtedly help companies boost capabilities and efficiencies. But when we’re talking about the scale of change required with Industry 4.0, you need simulation as the enabler – it’s the way to get a true, evidence-based understanding of how technologies will work together to drive the business forward. You’ve then freed yourself from fads and guesswork – and can plan your future, and investment, from a position of strength.

Rab Scott, Head of Digital, AMRC with Boeing

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