Industry 4.0: What It Is and How It Improves Manufacturing

Industry 4.0 is a common buzzword that is thrown around along with IIoT and Process visualization but what does that mean and how is it integrated into a manufacturing process? Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution. The first dealing with mechanization and the use of steam and water power, the second referring to mass production using assembly lines and electrical power, and the third referring to automated production and the use of computers and robots. Industry 4.0 takes us a step beyond that to smart factories that include automation and machine learning. Again, buzzwords that can be hard to visualize.

A commonplace example of this would be self-driving cars. They are autonomous because they don’t need a person operating them and they take, in real time, information about their surroundings and use that to determine a course of action. But how can this type of technology affect a manufacturing process?

Industry 4.0 requires data to be analyzed. This is where IO-Link comes into play. With IO-Link, you are able to get information from a sensor more than than just an output signal when it detects a part. A photoelectric sensor is a good example of this. The basic way a photoelectric sensor works an output is given depending on the amount of light being received. If the sensor happens to be in a dirty/dusty environment, there could be dirt collecting on the lens or floating in the air which effects the amount of light being received. An IO-Link (smart) sensor can not only fire an output when detection occurs but can give information about the real time gain of the sensor (how much light is being received). If the gain drops below a certain amount because of dirt on the lens or in the air, it can send another signal to the controller indicating the change in gain.

Now that we have more data, what are we going to do with it?

We now have all of this data coming from different parts of the machine, but where does it go and what do we do with it? This is where process visualization comes into play. We are able to take real time data from a machine and upload it to a database or system that we can monitor outside of the plant floor. We can know if a machine is running properly without having to physically see the machine. The information can also give us indications about when something might fail so preventative maintenance can take place and reduce downtime.

As more manufacturing processes are becoming automated, machines are becoming more and more complex. A machine might be needed to run 6-7 different lines rather than just 1 or 2 which can involve things like tool change or settings changes. Then, more checks need to be in place, so the right process is running for the right part. Industry 4.0 is how we are able to gather all this information and use it to increase efficiency and productivity.

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