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Industry 4.0 revolution

Dr Carl Diver, lecturer at the University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

We speak to the University of Manchester’s Dr Carl Diver about the new industrial revolution.

Over time, industry has evolved in tandem with influencing innovations and technology both internal and external. From the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, when mechanisation and harnessing natural elements led to extensive changes in manufacturing, through electricity and the assembly line in the early 20th century and automation in the late 20th century, when these changes came, they revolutionised manufacturing in response to new technologies and consumer needs. Most recently, our increasingly digital lives have led to a fourth revolution in industrial methods, one that embraces the inter-connectivity of live in the 21st century, resulting in cyber physical systems that can communicate with each other and with humans via the Internet of Things. Here, Dr Carl Diver, lecturer at the University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, talks us through the changes he’s witnessed so far in Industry 4.0 and what lies ahead.

Dr Carl Diver, lecturer at the University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

When did you first hear the term ‘Industry 4.0’ and what were your initial thoughts on the latest industrial revolution?

We see new terms in manufacturing all the time and my initial thoughts around Industry 4.0 were that it was another term, another buzz word, but that it was something that we have been doing for years in one form or another. I thought it was a variation on smart manufacturing and digital manufacturing and initially, I wasn’t convinced that we had anything revolutionary.

I definitely see myself working in the area now and many, if not all, of my research projects have an Industry 4.0 element. I will soon be delivering another workshop in Bandung, Indonesia and we are preparing to deliver courses in Singapore and Hong Kong.

My background is in the automotive sector, developing processes and putting them into production. My current research always comes back to manufacturing processes. I am doing work on post processing of additive manufactured components for injection moulding and aerospace, and additive is a key aspect of industry 4.0.

As an academic, what aspects of Industry 4.0 are the most exciting? Additionally, how is research around Industry 4.0 evolving?

In our everyday lives, the Internet of Things has transformed how we do things. There appears to be an app for all aspects of how we live. This may be one of the first instances where a disruptive technology used by the mass market is being adopted by industry. Although, the reality is that many aspects of Industry 4.0 are or have already been implemented by companies, but maybe not fully.

There are many challenges ahead of us as we develop Industry 4.0 solutions. We still have challenges to overcome in the area of communications, even at the level of machine to machine, especially where different communication protocols are in use e.g. compatibility between MTConnect and OPC UA. Cybersecurity is a concern and traditionally companies are very protective of their USP. Harnessing big data to help with understanding manufacturing processes is an exciting area, as we will be able to analyse our processes in more detail and find solutions that will give us more control over those processes to improve efficiencies and allow us to be more competitive.

My students are developing multi-disciplinary skillsets. The nature of research today means that they need to have design, manufacturing, electrical and software, modelling and simulation skills, as well as interpersonal and communication, as they need to be able to communicate with colleagues with different skill sets from different disciplines.

It’s not only about robotics or automation. It is about using technology where appropriate to make tasks more efficient. For example, augmented reality can be used to help with manual assembly tasks, whereas previously the solution might have been to automate.

Do you think businesses are prepared for Industry 4.0? If not, what advice would you give to businesses who are unsure of how to fully adopt the technologies behind Industry 4.0?

Knowledge of Industry 4.0 is improving, but a lot of work still needs to be done. For many, the perception is that it is about installing robots and automating manufacturing, when the reality is that it is much more than this. It’s about identifying how technology can help make a business more efficient and productive. It may relate to business practices, communication and sharing of information along the value chain, or using devices on the shop floor to allow decisions to be taken quickly. It can be done in small steps, maybe supporting manual assembly operations to minimise errors, to help with managing of consumables.

I would recommend that companies in the UK reach out to universities and to Innovate UK to get support on what Industry 4.0 could do for their particular business. The government has produced an industrial strategy document with 10 pillars and, more recently, have identified six areas that they are investing in through the Industrial strategy challenge fund. Companies should see if their business can exploit these opportunities by analysing their existing skill sets to see if they are aligned, or to see what they can do to align with these areas.

Which aspects of Industry 4.0 do you think present the most challenges for the manufacturing industry?

I think trying to fully implement Industry 4.0 in a business is challenging and one of the key issues that needs to be addressed is communication and data collection from machines with different communication protocols. Standardisation is required to support communication for industry. Legacy issues will be a challenge also, and that needs to be considered by standardisation. I see in our own work that dealing with machines from different suppliers with different programmable logic controllers possess real challenges in gathering and sending data and this will be a real challenge for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

As educators, we need to ensure that we equip our graduates with the necessary skill sets to work in an Industry 4.0 world. There is also a people element that needs to be addressed. Generally, people resist change, so it will be important to educate people and show how the adoption of technology will be beneficial overall. There are plenty of examples of companies adopting technology resulting in increased productivity and overall an increase in employee numbers.

What do you think is the future of Industry 4.0 and in your opinion, are we behind on predicting future trends and technologies?

Industry 4.0 does and will have a significant impact on additive manufacturing. We are already seeing the rapid advancement and acceptance of additive manufacturing. It is no longer called rapid prototyping because it can be used in certain sectors to produce commercially viable products. As consumer demand moves toward customisation and personalisation, we will see more adoption and advances in additive manufacturing. We may see smart adaptive products. I think we will also see this in the area of bio manufacturing, where patient specific implants can be manufactured next to or in the operating theatre. We may see smaller manufacturing facilities established closer to the end user, rather than large facilities producing large batches. I hope that Industry 4.0 will lead to sustainable manufacturing, less waste, less energy demand, improved productivity and an improvement in quality of life and more rewarding jobs.

What do you think the future of manufacturing looks like? What major changes do you envision?

I think we will still need people involved in manufacturing and we will see more collaborative robots supporting workers in manufacturing. Technology will help with decision making, offer guidance to people, have an impact on minimising errors and will improve productivity and quality. People will still be involved in creativity and innovation.

I think we will see new entrants and new products. There will be new business models. We are already seeing this with companies who now lease machines and offer them as a service rather than just selling a product. This will in turn help with environmental aspect sand design for disassembly or products designed to have a second life. As with the likes of Uber (they don’t own any assets no taxis), Airbnb (they don’t have any properties) etc., we may have companies with products but no manufacturing facilities.

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