Industry 4.0: Engineering Design Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Article by Andrew Koenig, Director of Engineering
The first Industrial Revolution began with mechanization through water and steam power. Mechanization enabled assembly lines and mass production, eventually utilizing electricity — the hallmark of the second industrial revolution. The third began with the adoption of computers and automation.
We find ourselves in the fourth industrial revolution. This time we’re improving computer solutions with “smart” and autonomous systems. Data and machine learning power these systems.
The internet of things, automation, robotics, and additive manufacturing has started to disruptively influence mechanical engineering design. On top of impacting the way engineers design products for “smart” manufacturing, they must also redesign processes and operations to accommodate these new technological advances.
Many organizations are in denial about how Industry 4.0 could impact their business or may be struggling to find the talent to best adapt it for their unique use cases. However, several companies, including Enerfab, are implementing changes today and preparing for a future where smart machines help improve all facets of their business. Here are some examples:
Autonomous Equipment and Vehicles
Partial automation is already common in some construction equipment — machine-learning-guided bucket operation, for example. With autonomous vehicle technology becoming more and more viable, it’s only a matter of time before self-operating cranes and other equipment become the norm on job sites everywhere.
Robotic machines are now more economical for businesses of all sizes. From automated welding and cutting to material management/warehouse stocking, robotic machines can provide the opportunity to reduce costs and improve the functionality of the manufacturing floor space.
Additive Manufacturing (3-D Printing)
This technology has taken significant steps forward in the past five to seven years, especially in metal additive manufacturing. The possibilities for production opportunities seem virtually endless in the coming years.
Internet of Things and the Cloud
The simplest expression of this concept is connected devices, which allow internal operations to view data, update equipment, and improve operations. This is a completely digitized way to allow smaller enterprises to access technology that they typically wouldn’t be able to on their own.
The broadest way to economize Industry 4.0 is with the use of data analytics in a way that humans could not possibly do in a reasonable time frame. With features like maintenance information, performance metrics, and other innovations, data analytics allow businesses to quickly decide what needs attention.
Optimize Logistics and Supply Chains
In response to interruptions in supply chains, machine-learning provides the ability to proactively adjust to accommodate and potentially modify manufacturing priorities.
While Industry 4.0 continues to evolve, companies that are adopting technologies are beginning to realize Industry 4.0’s potential. But the next challenge for these companies will be how to upskill their current workforce to take on new work responsibilities made possible by Industry 4.0 and to recruit new employees with the right skillsets.
Time will tell how Industry 4.0 will adjust the market or what revolution will follow.