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Digitalisation in manufacturing – what is Industry 4.0?

23 Apr 2021

The fourth industrial revolution – or Industry 4.0 – is delivering a step change in manufacturing processes – such as at Ford’s Factory of the Future. The automotive manufacturer’s new E:PriME (Electrified Powertrain in Manufacturing Engineering) facility in Essex is using 5G Mobile Private Networks (MPN), to coordinate operations in real time, improving manufacturing precision, efficiency and safety.

Ford is using real-time secure data capture and analysis to revolutionise processes. For example, the motor and battery of a Ford electric vehicle requires around 1,000 welds and could generate up to 500,000 pieces of data per minute. The high-bandwidth, ultra-low latency 5G MPN is custom-built for Ford’s critical operations, helping to speed up assembly, bring greater precision and boost efficiency at the factory.

Intelligent change

Industry 4.0 is intelligent – it’s melding data, machines and people in completely new ways to support more efficient operations, sustainable businesses and better customer experiences. Just consider the efficiency of a low-touch production line where delivered goods are scanned using Radio Frequency ID (RFID) scanners, smart forklifts – networked autonomous forklift trucks – move goods to racks and factory trains supply the required goods to the production line. The whole process is continuously monitored and controlled – with factory supervisors using the data that has been analysed in real time to ensure the entire process remains on track.

Industry 4.0 is not just about technology, but several technologies coming together to provide manufacturing companies with relevant, real-time data and the “connected” machinery to utilise it. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), robotics, cloud computing, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, for example, are some of the technologies used across different manufacturing organisations that are coming together to transform operations.

Never underestimate the power of data

Data is at the heart of the Industry 4.0 revolution. Digital technologies, IoT and cloud provide the data that has allowed companies to become more efficient and innovative.

In our global IoT research, more than 79% of adopters said IoT helped them to achieve outcomes that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible. And we agree: in our state-of-the-art Automotive plant in Varese, Italy, which produces electronics and telematics technologies for fleets, vehicle manufacturers, and motor insurance companies, Industry 4.0 is creating a faster, more flexible production environment, and changing the way that workers go about their daily tasks.

In this forward-thinking site, IoT-enabled architecture is building on the innovation achieved through robotics and 3D printing to achieve lean production. Smarter control of raw material flow means a change from sequential assembly lines to just-in-time operation, based on a far higher degree of automation.

Other manufacturing improvements have also taken place: an automatic storage system, designed to Vodafone Automotive specifications, means electronic components are remotely linked to assembly lines, improving the speed and accuracy of supply and boosting traceability. And a 3D vision system with automatic optical inspection has been installed, ensuring that real-time quality checks can be carried out across the line.

Keeping vaccines safe

Once products are created, companies need to distribute them safely and effectively. For several years, Icelandic start-up Controlant, an emerging leader in digital supply chain monitoring technology solutions, and Vodafone Iceland, a partner of Vodafone, have been working together to make the monitoring of temperature-sensitive medicines and vaccines possible around the world.

When it came to supporting the fight against COVID-19 and providing a reliable way for vaccines to be transported and stored, they stepped up their game. Controlant’s technology, combined with our global IoT platform, is working with manufacturers and governments to enable the safe tracking and monitoring of the precious vaccine cargo during shipment, from origin sites to their arrival at vaccination sites across the world.

Packed with the vaccines, their reusable, real-time IoT data loggers give 24/7 visibility of time, temperature, and light events that could impact vaccine performance. This data is then transmitted in real-time via our IoT platform to ensure that vaccine vials are monitored as they are distributed worldwide.

Extending the reach of data

The ability to track a product’s progress outside the production plant is also helping to mitigate the risk of theft, counterfeiting and damage.

Bayer has worked with Vodafone Business, ArmAltair Semiconductor and Murata, to create a unique smart label. For example, with the smart label applied, any sudden increase in temperature that would damage the goods will send a notification that triggers an action to resolve the situation. The small smart label also gives a complete view of the supply chain, assuring the quality and traceability of their products.

Future leaders

Industry 4.0 is not just providing the intelligence to transform production processes; it’s giving manufacturers the chance to understand a product’s entire lifecycle.

From improving the design to creating new revenue opportunities, intelligent manufacturing is changing businesses. And the competitive advantage is clear: in recent Industry 4.0 research, 91% of global IT decision-makers (ITDMs) said they believe the ability of a business to collect, analyse and act on data will determine whether their business will be a leader in the future.

Are you ready to transform your business using the technology of tomorrow?

Check out our guide on the emerging technologies inspiring the next wave of innovation.

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