The term Industry 4.0 is used to describe the modern approach to manufacturing by using the Internet of Things, robotics, and automation. It's a practice that differs from traditional mechanical engineering as it requires engineers to devise new methods in product design and manufacturing.
With the right digital tools and advanced AI solutions, engineers can create higher-quality products faster, make changes according to consumer demands, and conquer the markets more efficiently. Brands taking this approach have 50% higher loyalty rates as customers prefer customizable products. Learn more about Industry 4.0 and engineering in this article.
The Latest Industrial Revolution
The first industrial revolution took place in the late 18th century. It completely changed the way manufacturing works as more and more machines started replacing humans. The revolution changed how humans live and work, and it set a trend that keeps evolving up to this day.
The second industrial revolution happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It improved existing technologies and helped connect them into one ecosystem. The so-called third industrial revolution happened when computers and automation took over most manufacturing processes. It wasn't as revolutionary as the first two revolutions, but it brought changes that improved precision and product quality.
That brings us to Industry 4.0, also known as the fourth industrial revolution that focuses on the benefits of digital technology. Manufacturers today use advanced technologies such as bionics, IoT, AI, and data analytics to improve product design, production, and quality. Let's break it down and see how exactly it's changing the world around us.
Technologies behind Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 and engineering rest on the following technologies:
1. Internet of Things
IoT is a technology that uses sensors to connect all individual elements in a manufacturing system with a single computer that provides real-time monitoring and collects data. It offers complete operational performance monitoring, allowing companies to identify weak spots in their operations and find solutions to improve their efforts.
The Internet of Things can also help improve all aspects of the supply chain, by using tiny sensors. That way, manufacturing companies, and their engineers have more control over the process of product design and manufacturing. All of the decisions they make are based on high-quality information generated by the sensors. Once the bigger picture is in place, engineers can recreate the entire manufacturing process in a digital environment.
Of course, some processes are still manual and require the right people to complete. However, those involved have a much better idea of what's going on at all times due to improved transparency across all manufacturing processes.
2. Big Data Analytics
Big data is a massive source of information that can be used to improve manufacturing and entire business operations. Advanced AI and data analytics tools allow organizations to find, analyze, and store data across all production stages. The data can improve product design, increase employee efficiency, and find better solutions to all kinds of problems.
Industry 4.0 and engineering success today largely depend on big data, as most practices are 100% data-driven. Data is the only real thing that can help companies optimize performance on every production stage. However, big data can also be used to analyze consumer trends, generating insights that can help engineers create the perfect product.
Big data can also help smaller companies that want to improve the customer experience. Once manufacturers gather and analyze the data from all channels ranging from product data to customer data, location data, and so on, they will be able to improve the quality of products and grow sales.
3. Engineering Simulation
VR and AR are now used to recreate realistic situations allowing engineers to test ideas and solutions in a virtual environment. They can also use 3D images and holograms to pinpoint potential product flaws, improve design, reduce errors, and reduce overall time to market.
When compared to traditional CAD engineering, modern technologies are used to create realistic organic shapes with highly complex structures. These technologies offer a cost-effective way of testing potential products in a virtual environment to validate design solutions. Once the final product is flawless, it can enter manufacturing immediately without the risk of failure or the need for extra testing.
4. Additive Manufacturing
3D and 4D printing technologies are quickly finding their application among many different industries. They can help engineers design and manufacture products that can't be made using traditional techniques. Moreover, AM promotes the use of new materials that make it to the final production phase easier.
While improving the quality of the product, AM also uses consolidation to simplify the overall design. Additive manufacturing has application in the aerospace and automotive industries as well as healthcare. For example, 3D printing can help create custom medical implants and other devices that drastically improve the patient's quality of life. The technology allows engineers to take a different approach to problems and provide unique solutions.
The real value of Industry 4.0 and engineering advances can be achieved only when the four elements work together. For example, once a company gathers enough data and finds the best solution, they can program robots or use AI to improve product design and increase productivity. Manufacturing doesn't rely only on the employees anymore. It's now a fully automated process that almost doesn't require human intervention at all.
Engineering On a Different Level
From an engineer's standing point, the latest industrial revolution requires a different approach. Engineers now have to combine elements from physical, biological, and digital elements during product development. However, even if they have the necessary skills to get things done, the fast evolution of technology makes it hard to keep up with everything in real-time. The current challenges are making engineers take a different approach to their work. Here are the three main challenges they face every day:
1. Engineers have to be Diligent and More Attentive
Most of the industrial workforce has to focus on the task at hand, but with so many new technologies taking over, that's easier said than done. Engineers have to know how to integrate new technologies into existing manufacturing lines without long downtimes and disruptions.
It's a challenge all industries will face in the following years, so engineers have to be one step ahead of all other employees. They have to master new technologies, learn new skills, and develop talents to make the final transition easier for everyone involved.
2. Keeping Up With New Technologies
New technologies are being released all the time, making it harder for engineers to keep up with the latest trends. Things will only speed up in the future, which presents a serious problem for engineers and product development. New technological breakthroughs happen daily, so engineers have to stay informed about the latest upgrades and learn how to apply them in practice.
3. Heavily Relying On Communication
Communication reached a point where it affects how we live every day. Everyone has a smartphone these days, so it's easy to exchange thoughts with partners and fellow engineers. However, communication today allows engineers to reach out to experts all over the globe instantaneously.
Industry 4.0 and engineering are bringing communication to an even bigger scale by making knowledge available for every person on the planet. The challenge now is to create enough storage and boost processing speeds to accommodate the rising needs. Engineers have to master using devices and communication apps of today to prepare themselves for what's coming next.
The latest industrial revolution uses all available technologies and intertwines them into one complex system that presents all kinds of challenges. Successful engineers can't just focus on their area of expertise to survive in this new world. They have to branch out and develop all kinds of skills to stay competitive.
That includes everything from mastering data analytics, to using advanced communication tools, and even using virtual reality as a platform for product development. Technologies like IoT help engineers get the most out of existing systems, but they still have to consider many more variables than ever before.
So, if you're looking to become a successful engineer, you should be ready to learn something new every day for the rest of your life. Industry 4.0 and engineering require this approach, and there’s no way around it.