While it’s true that the recent coronavirus pandemic has hit all industrial sectors in some way or in the other, it is also undeniable that this planetary catastrophe has slammed the foot on the gas pedal of the digital transformation.
Industry 4.0 is described as the fourth wave of the industrial revolution. The first was the introduction of steam power, the second, electricity and mass production. The third wave was the introduction of computers, and the fourth builds on that, utilizing smart technology. I Scoop defines industry 4.0 as “a name for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, including cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing and creating the smart factory.”
The latest trends for industrial internet of things (IIOT) can hugely impact the industry sector, favoring the transition towards a much more advanced, automated, and interconnected "4.0" environment.
Solving the Intermittent Connectivity Conundrum
IoT devices need internet connectivity to work. However, even the strongest network is bound to experience overload at some point. No matter how sophisticated technology gets, constantly being connected to a network is a fundamental weakness, especially on an industrial scale.
More companies these days favor IoT devices that use intermittent connectivity protocols, as opposed to constant wifi or cellular connections, as a way of overcoming this challenge.
The logistics industry provides a great case study for the positives of intermittent connectivity. Traditionally, data logger devices that connect using radio-frequency identification (RFID) transmitters or even USB cables have been used to collect condition and location information on stored and shipped materials. But plugging in all those loggers intermittently is extremely labor intensive, and RFID syncs with unreliable towers that are dependent on expensive proprietary systems.
Finnish firm Logmore's dynamic e-ink QR code solution is an example of how to use intermittent connectivity at scale. IoT sensors attached to the tags collect information, which refreshes a QR code on a small display. Then, anyone with a smartphone can scan the codes and push the data to Logmore's cloud service, which stakeholders can connect to via APIs to use the data as they please. (Read also: The Dangers of QR Codes.)
Data, Data and Even More Data
Data is essential to drive all decisions, make every process more efficient, and optimize both marketing and production strategies. Without efficiency we have waste, and with waste, we get pollution on one hand, and reduced profits on the other.
The best Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms can make sense of the most colossally sized Big Data stack to fuel the smartest data-driven decision, but unless something collects this data in the first place, there’s only so much they can do.
Well, in a nutshell the industrial IoT can provide plenty of data. From quality control, to logistics, to manufacturing, IIoTs can be leveraged to extract vital information about all the key performance indicators of the entire operation. Labor rates and retention can be finely tuned up to prevent shortages as data is provided from intelligent IioT sources such as sensors and even new robots. (Read also: IIoT vs IoT: The Bigger Risks of the Industrial Internet of Things.)
A curious example of this is the OTTO 100, a new autonomous mobile robot that is used to transport light materials across a factory. Equipped with smart sensors, the robot acts as a mobile performance monitoring/data collection device that extracts information about surrounding equipment, layout adjustments, the performance of materials being moved around, and much more. This data is then stored into the main database, and used to make a broad range of optimizations and improvements of the entire production process.
Are Smart Factories Finally Becoming a Reality?
Seamlessly connecting all production steps in a perfectly streamlined, and fully automated process has always been the dream of the whole industrial sector. The whole idea of “Smart Factories” has always been challenged so far by our own technological limitations, that we’re now on the verge of surpassing once and forever.
IIOTs are part of this revolution as they can provide a constant stream of fundamental information about the operating conditions of machinery and the efficiency of each individual production step. Sensors and robots can leverage the enormous potential of AI technologies to establish an ever-evolving, fully automated production ecosystem, from machinery to logistics. Always-connected smart equipment can autonomously adapt to the constantly changing requirements of the production environment in an endlessly process of self-optimization.
And the best part, is that, today, all these jaw-dropping ideas are not part of some futuristic fiction anymore. Just as we speak, this Industry 4.0 dream is quickly becoming a reality in Amberg, Germany, where it’s taking the form of the latest Siemens Electronic Works facility.
Making Healthcare Healthier
What’s healthier than a healthy healthcare system? Well, since their advent, IIoTs count among the most disruptive technologies that revolutionized the healthcare sector. Even ordinary medical equipment is now able to gather and share vital data that can significantly ease the life of all stakeholders. Medical practitioners are enjoying their benefits in the form of reduced workload that helps them focus on attending their patients’ needs, as well as detailed insights into symptoms and therapy effectiveness to enhance diagnosis and health outcomes. (Read also: How AI in Healthcare is Identifying Risks and Saving Money.)
This same information can be leveraged by hospital management as well to monitor patients’ health, optimize maintenance of costly machinery (such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines), and track the location of critical equipment like defibrillators, ventilators, oxygen pumps, and wheelchairs in real time. Sensors and smart monitoring systems can be used to limit the spread of infections such as COVID-19, deploy personnel or medical staff where needed, and improve pharmacy inventory control such as checking refrigerator temperature when stocking vaccines.
Ushering in the age of Industry 4.0 is not without its challenges of course. Questions over security and vulnerabilities to hackers, setting standards to ensure disparate machines and industries can communicate, and integrating these new technologies with what is already in place are all concerns that need to be addressed. Are we really on the verge of merging the Internet Revolution and the Industrial Revolution to finally reach the Industry 4.0 age? The answer is likely “yes”, and IIoT technologies are driving this change at an incredible pace.