How is machine learning, big data and cloud technologies changing the manufacturing industry and how to take the first steps in order to embrace it?
Over the past 350 years, the manufacturing industry has been marked by huge leaps in technology that have given us better control over automated production. First steam took over from water power, and later electricity ushered in the era of mass production.
In the ’60s, computers empowered us to repurpose machines’ and automate processes without rewiring them, and now the next manufacturing revolution is in full swing.
Industry 4.0 is bringing a new level of automation to manufacturing by allowing machines’ processes to be reprogrammed with minimal input from humans. This is thanks to the parallel emergence of nine key technologies, as identified by the Boston Consulting Group, including machine learning, big data and cloud.
The building blocks of industry 4.0
Cloud technology has probably received the most widespread coverage in the mainstream, but its use goes well beyond Netflix or Spotify. In fact, cloud-computing is one of the most important building blocks of Industry 4.0.
Manufacturing machines have always produced vast amounts of data, but previously there was no way of sending, receiving, storing or analysing it. Thanks to improving cloud technologies, every single operation performed by a piece of equipment connected to the internet, no matter where it’s located, can be sent directly to a virtual-server.
Once the data is in the cloud, it can be analysed by business intelligence software and shared using a cloud-enabled device and authorised access. If the adage is true and knowledge is power, cloud-computing could transform factories into an almost endless source of power.
Where this all leads to is Smart Factories.
From the shop floor to the consumer
In more concrete terms, consider an experienced shop-floor machinist, he can probably look at a drawing and tell you approximately how long it will take to fabricate.
Now think of the shop-manager, he can tell you if you have the available stock and space in the schedule. Finally think about the factory owner, he’ll know how to price the job and order new stock to replace what’s used.
In a smart factory, all this information already exists in the cloud and can be processed in an instant. Customers could simply submit a drawing and your system would order the stock, schedule the work, calculate a price, arrange a delivery and send a quote to the customer – all based on real-world data from your factory.
While you might not be ready for that kind of automation, embracing cloud-computing could help prepare your manufacturing business for Industry 4.0