In our previous piece on Industry 4.0, we focused on the technologies like blockchain and IoT that seem poised to become the pillars of the fourth industrial revolution. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the most promising Industry 4.0 use cases. But first, a quick refresher.
Industry 4.0 in a nutshell
The Industry 4.0 concept was first floated in 2011, as part of a German high-tech strategy for the country’s manufacturing sector. It outlined a plan for automation and digitalization of manufacturing through the use of emerging technologies like smart sensors, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence. The strategy was aimed at achieving flexible production so that it could support a high level of customization of products.
The introduction of Industry 4.0 has prompted the emergence of various projects offering their own interpretations of the concept. In the years since four design principles for building Industry 4.0 solutions have been established: interoperability, which relates to the ability of people, machines, and devices to connect and communicate with each other in a system or even across systems; information transparency with regards to the data collected by the various smart sensors and devices involved in an Industry 4.0 system; technical assistance, which refers to the capacity of systems to assist humans in the decision-making and problem-solving processes, as well as to perform tasks that are deemed unsafe for humans; and decentralization when it comes to the ability of cyber-physical systems to make decisions.
Industry 4.0 use cases
Perhaps the most compelling side of Industry 4.0 is its ability to utilize synergies between emerging technologies to enable new types of solutions that have the potential to change not just manufacturing and its related industries but also impact our everyday lives. This is what every other industrial revolution has done and that’s why the Industry 4.0 moniker is often used in relation to the fourth industrial revolution.
So let’s take a look at some of the ways Industry 4.0 can benefit manufacturing and the broader economy.
The implementation of Industry 4.0 solutions could greatly improve the tracking of key assets at a manufacturing facility. Those can include equipment, tools, personnel, and finished products, among others. Traditional methods of asset tracking employ various tools and techniques, such as QR codes and radio frequency identification (RFID), but there is plenty of room for improvement and optimization.
There are also significant opportunities for effective synergies between Industry 4.0 technologies. For example, the new wave of asset tracking solutions could utilize emerging technologies like smart sensors and IoT to collect data and then store that data securely on a blockchain-based system. This way you can have reliable real-time asset tracking at a smart factory. What’s more, similar solutions could be used to handle asset tracking across complex manufacturing supply chains.
Modern methods of collecting and sharing data could be utilized to identify problem areas, as well as anticipate and prevent failures. Artificial intelligence technology could also be employed to allow smart machines to adapt accordingly in order to minimize the risk of failure.
As already mentioned, the use of Industry 4.0 solutions is unlikely to be limited just to manufacturing. One of the industries poised to benefit the most from Industry 4.0 is transportation. For example, emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and blockchain can be used in commercial fleet management to optimize routes, track deliveries, avoid traffic congestions and prevent incidents. In addition, Industry 4.0 could give rise to autonomous commercial vehicle fleets.
You can find more on the subject of transportation in our “Blockchain in Transportation” piece, where we take a detailed look at how distributed ledger technologies, in particular, could be utilized across the sector.
During its formative years, 3D printing was often perceived as a gimmick rather than a technology with actual utility. However, the technology has now advanced enough that it is starting to prove the skeptics wrong. Combined with Industry 4.0 technologies like cloud computing and blockchain, 3D printing could be the workhorse of the new era of manufacturing, bringing a never before seen level of flexibility and customization to production processes.
A cloud-based 3D printing service, for example, can provide businesses and customers with easy access to manufacturing equipment capable of making products based on set designs. A similar concept can be realized with a decentralized, blockchain-based system. A blockchain-based system has the added benefit of supporting tokens and smart contracts, which opens up opportunities for implementing innovative solutions like NFTs (non-fungible tokens) containing instructions for executing custom designs.
In its latest annual report on the state of the sector, Sculpteo, a French company for cloud-based 3D printing, surveyed more than 1,600 people from 71 countries. Some 71% of respondents said that they had used 3D printing for more than three years.
With the world poised to become even more digital and connected, the importance of Industry 4.0 is likely to increase in the future. Manufacturing, supply chains, and transportation are just some of the areas that could benefit the current crop of emerging technologies. And as people discover new ways to combine these technologies, the case for blockchain, IoT, AI, and Industry 4.0, as a whole, will only get stronger.