The top five technologies of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 could be the way that the Australian manufacturing industry transforms to remain globally competitive for the rest of the 21st century. Encompassing a wide range of processes and technologies, selecting five key aspects of this wave of change can enable manufacturing businesses to select the Industry 4.0 pathway that is most applicable to them.

Artificial intelligence

Whether encapsulated in the figure of a robot or built into a data system, artificial intelligence could revolutionise the manufacturing industry. With an artificial intelligence system implemented, the robots that driven an automated production system can not only be programmed to run on their own, but can learn and adapt to different situations.

For example, in a pick and pack system, where items of different size and shape need to be deftly selected and placed within a predetermined container, a robot with a vision system supported by artificial intelligence can change its picking method to most appropriate move the item.

Other artificial intelligence systems can be used to augment a human work’s capabilities. For example, construction company Laing O’Rouke has developed an artificial intelligence system called Toolbox Spotter, which can identify when a human worker is in a hazardous area, and determine which pieces of equipment need to be notified to control the hazard.

3D printing technologies
While 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has been used in a range of applications, from hobbyists to aerospace, the speed and sophistication of 3D printing technology has led to manufacturers implementing the technology in their processes. In addition, the expansion of materials that can be printed, and the structural integrity of these materials, has led to a host of technical applications of the technology. In this context, Australia has emerged as a 3D printing powerhouse.
Local manufacturers of 3D printing technology such as Spee3D and Titomic have led the globe. What makes 3D printing particularly useful in the next manufacturing revolution is the ability to quickly change product designs and specifications without needing to up-end an assembly line. This has allowed companies such as Gilmour Space Technologies to apply 3D printing in the manufacture of high-value, precision components.
Augmented reality
Another technology with a range of applications, augmented reality could most commonly be seen in the wildly successful Pokémon Go game. For manufacturers, augmented reality has some very serious applications. Mario Dimovski, CEO of Tradiebot, has utilised augmented reality to create an automotive repair solution, and one that engages the next generation of workers. Named WorxAR, the platform provides context relevant information via cloud-data management services. With the automotive repairs industry facing a shortage of young people getting into the industry, augmented reality allows people to get excited about cars once again.

Industrial Internet of Things

Often used as a catch-all term for a range of technologies and applications, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is at its core about bringing devices and people via internet connections. These can take the form of software platforms which provide sales people the ability instantly configure individualised solutions while on the road, speaking with clients.

Alternatively, manufacturers are now creating equipment that can be used in the field, and then communicates to headquarters via 3G or 4G connections, allowing new business models based on services, rather than products. Explosives manufacturing company Orica, for example, has enabled its explosive delivery vehicles communicate via the internet to ensure that explosives are individually manufactured, at the site, to most efficiently break up rock for ore extraction.

Finally, the IIoT can step up predictive maintenance of components which, when equipped with sensors, can feed information back into a cohesive database which then provides alerts to the manufacturer of when a piece of equipment is not functioning at its optimum level.

Collaboration

While each of these technologies may seem exciting for the potential that they can bring to a manufacturing industry, there is one essential component that is missing from the technologies themselves; people. People working together, whether in a business or across companies, is essential for Industry 4.0 adoption. According to a report prepared by PwC on behalf of Swinburne University, collaboration is the number one finding of what businesses need to survive this industrial transformation. The nature of the Australian manufacturing industry, dominated by small to medium enterprises, means that each company may not have the expertise required to implement the technologies of Industry 4.0.

By working with other businesses, however, small businesses can be more competitive than ever. Furthermore, with universities and research institutions playing a larger role in the high-value research and development activities which will characterise the bulk of the manufacturing value chain, businesses and universities need to find ways to productively work together to realise the expertise that is held in higher education, and provide that a pathway to market.