Manufacturing AUTOMATION

What is Industry 4.0, anyway?

September 5, 2019
By Jennifer Rideout

Photo: NicoElNino/iStock/Getty Images Plus

September 5, 2019 – Even in 2019, there are questions about Industry 4.0 and whether there is value for manufacturers to invest in advanced solutions.

And as emerging technologies like blockchain, 5G and artificial intelligence begin to demand attention, Industry 4.0 isn’t getting any simpler.

In conversation with Matt Rendall, CEO of Clearpath Robotics, and David McPhail, CEO of Memex, we discussed Industry 4.0 at length. What follows is a condensed version of that conversation, and our answers to some burning Industry 4.0 questions.

What is Industry 4.0?

Matt Rendall: In the last decade, massive technology pillars have been in development, like cloud computing, big data and mobile computing. It’s these types of pillars that have enabled the Industry 4.0 movement and, in turn, will allow the vision of the smart factory to become reality. Industry 4.0 is the next industrial revolution that represents the connectivity between industrial equipment and constant data flow to access and analyze centralized information.


What is the difference between Industry 4.0 and the IIoT?

Jennifer Rideout: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the extension of the Internet of Things (IoT) into industrial environments. These environments require specialized products and solutions that have been “ruggedized” to operate in extreme conditions. IIoT solutions are part of the cyber-physical technologies that define Industry 4.0, which encompasses additional solutions such as additive manufacturing, digitizing business processes and advanced control systems.

How do I implement Industry 4.0?

David McPhail: Connectivity is the key to any data-driven manufacturing implementation. This means companies must find a way to get every machine talking to the corporate network, and to do so securely, using standards-based technology.

The simplest place to start is to utilize the MTConnect protocol, which is used by most modern pieces of industrial equipment. MTConnect is an open, standards-based, communications protocol. Any machine that runs MTConnect can simply and easily transmit real-time details about its status and health over any network, and the information will be immediately understood by any other standards-based system.

Some older machines – the legacy equipment that often forms the backbone of a manufacturing operation – may not have a network interface, lacking either a serial port or an Ethernet connection. These pieces will need industrial-strength edge hardware attachments to act as webservers in order to transmit the harvested machine data (either wirelessly or via Ethernet) to the corporate network.

How much does it cost to implement an Industry 4.0 solution?

DMP: Costs, of course, depend on a variety of factors including the number of machines to connect, the addition of hardware components to enable connectivity, and the price of associated software licensing. Solutions can start at a few thousand dollars per machine. When this price is paired with the possibility of only doing a small (one- or two-machine) installation, it becomes readily apparent that data-driven manufacturing is well within reach of everybody.

What are the challenges of implementing an Industry 4.0 solution?

JR: There are three significant challenges that most manufacturers encounter as they plan, deploy and track Industry 4.0 solutions. First is the complexity required to connect various devices and networks. Many manufacturers are still operating small, unconnected networks and/or networks powered by proprietary technologies.

Second are the growing security risks associated with connecting these applications and legacy machines. Many plants still rely on local, Microsoft-based applications and other technologies that are hard to update. They’re also hard to monitor – leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Last, the need for unprecedented scalability of devices remains difficult for manufacturers to master. Industry 4.0 initiatives require a massive number of connected devices plus a massive amount of data collection and analysis. That requires a level of networking and cybersecurity expertise plant operators simply haven’t needed in the past. With this massive scale, automation is essential to turn data into intelligence.

Why should I implement Industry 4.0 solutions?

MR: The manufacturing industry has always focused on building out lean processes. Consumers want things faster, cheaper, and expect better quality than ever before. So, it keeps operators on their toes, leaving them to ask: how do I build a product with the highest throughput, lowest cost, least amount of material and fastest cycle time? And once manufacturers crack the code on creating a lean process, they challenge themselves to push further through continuous improvement. If you want a competitive advantage, you need to do more than what everyone else is doing.

When we talk about why it’s important to embrace change and technology, it’s in acknowledgement that everyone is pursuing continuous improvement. This reason alone should be reason enough to implement Industry 4.0 solutions – the resulting benefits will move operations into an entirely new playing field.

It’s also worth noting that Industry 4.0 can be implemented in phases and doesn’t have to be done all at once.

Bottom line: does Industry 4.0 help my business?

JR: Industry 4.0 solutions improve the efficiency, quality and utilization of factory operations. The Business Development Bank of Canada released a report in June 2017 that showed 60 per cent of Canadian manufacturers who adopted Industry 4.0 solutions experienced a boost in factory productivity. Nearly 50 per cent reduced operating costs, and 42 per cent improved product quality. Simply put, Industry 4.0 helps manufacturers make more, in less time, for fewer resources.

My thanks to Matt and David for providing their insights.


Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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