The problem with the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Posted on 29 Mar 2019 by The Manufacturer

We’ve all heard the buzz, it’s been around a good while now, but let’s be honest, the momentum is slow; adoption is slow; progress is slow. You may be suffering from 4IR disillusionment, and if you hear about another multi-million-pound project involving 'Digital Twins' and 'Augmented Reality' your head might explode from all the noise and jargon.

Let’s be honest, some manufacturers have been using robotics since the 80’s, and full quantum computing is still some way off. The problem is simply this: revolutions are hard fought, they take a long time and there are casualties along the way.

We only have to look at history for proof of that. Granted, the time between these industrial revolutions is reducing; we’re now apparently down to about 35 years between revolutions – depending on your sources; but in some industries, companies are still getting to grips with the third Industrial Revolution, never mind the fourth!

Fourth Industrial Revolution Digital Twin Digital Twins Digital Twinning - Stock Image

Yes, digital twins are real (or at least real, virtually), and they bring great value, but unless you are Boeing or Rolls Royce, how do you find the justification, let alone the capital?

We all need to get on board with Darwin, you heard it here first: let’s cancel the Fourth Industrial Revolution and begin the ‘Industrial Evolution’!

Revolution – forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system. Or a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.”

Evolution – the process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth or the gradual development of something.”

The Evolution starts here!

For 98% of the UK manufacturing space, this IoT/IIoT/4IR may seem a little far-fetched and certainly not an immediate priority, but we urge you to rethink.

To begin on the Industrial Evolution, you don’t suddenly need to go from swimming in the ocean, struggling for breath, to running the 100m in 9.58 seconds. You just need to dip a toe in the water.

Now imagine you are the average industrial facility:

The likelihood is your processes are still very manual; labour is one of the largest elements of your costs.  You have some automation initiatives, but these sit in little islands as they were each bought as part of small one-off projects. They are certainly not networked; there might not even be any network points on the shop floor.

The entire operation is run on paper and good old Excel spreadsheets or that thing that Bob does that only Bob knows how to do, “God help us if Bob’s not around next week!”

Where are you going to start, what should you do first?

The answer is not creating a digital twin, creating a hologram or trying to clone Bob and create an AI version of his secret magic.

Think of the one thing, that if you could just fix it, there would be definite improvement. Now, turn off the part of your brain that says “it’s not possible in my industry” and turn on the other part that becomes active at home. The part that says, “my old laptop is too slow, I’ll just buy an iPad”, or “I’m tired of the house always being cold when I get home, I’ll get a Hive”. (other tablets and smart heating devices are available)

Ask yourself what was the risk/expense/benefit from making these changes?  Why not make the same changes in the workplace?

You Can Do It!

Let’s say you have a sneaky suspicion that the number of rejects you produce is directly related to the ambient temperature on the shop floor.  Well, you need data to test this idea.

The typical industrial solution might be:

  • Install a thermocouple sensor
  • Wire it back to a PLC
  • Get it to trend on a SCADA system (only if you have been through the third Revolution)
  • Get Emma on the shop floor to count the number of rejects you get each day and type them into Excel.
  • At the end of the month/quarter you can compile all the data and make a decision on the new air conditioning system you had been thinking about. Meanwhile you’ve invested a reasonable chunk of CapEx or cash to do this.

Fast forward to the new way of thinking; lets evolve the solution:

  • Get a wireless temperature sensor (it might not even need to be industrial – check with your policy first).
  • Buy a wireless sensor to count rejects.
  • Get them both to log data to the cloud for same-day analysis.
  • Make the right business decision quicker, and now you’ve begun!

You’ll find that the next small project will be better and then better and better still, until you get to the point where you can justify the clone of Bob and your problems will be solved, at least for now!

And so it begins: you’ve taken the first evolutionary step … now keep going!

Fraser Thomson, Business Development Director, Cimlogic Ltd