The journey to Industry 4.0
5 minutes | 17 Dec 2020
Becoming Industry 4.0 ready is a journey that many manufacturers are still on. By using a long-term strategy, they’re gradually introducing the technologies and processes of this new industrial revolution.
However, the journey that manufacturing technology took to reach this point took around 200 years. From the first primitive steam engines, through to basic production lines and automated machinery, each of the four industrial revolutions has brought about its own efficiencies and challenges.
So how did we reach Industry 4.0 and what can manufacturers learn from the previous industrial revolutions?
Industry 1.0: the power of steam
The invention of the steam engine is undoubtedly one of the most important moments in manufacturing history. However, the identity of its inventor is less clear cut. James Watt is most often credited for this technology. Yet this is not completely correct, says Ed Fagan, Operations Manager at the London Museum of Water and Steam.
“James Watt didn’t actually build the most fundamental part of the steam engine”, he says. “The first commercially successful steam engine, employing the piston-driven motion we have come to expect, was actually designed and created by Thomas Newcomen in 1712.”
Previously, steam engines had all been non-rotary, meaning they moved in one direction under power and returned to the start by gravity. The creation of a powered rotary motion enabled the steam engine to drive factories and machinery. This made factory power more efficient and meant that plants could be placed along riverbanks to be powered by water wheels.
The high-pressure steam engine was the beginning of the modern world as we know it. It enabled miners to remove water from the ground and dig deeper. This led to the more effective extraction of tin, iron ore, copper and coal, all of which were key to the progress of the industrial age.
The introduction and development of the steam engine led to an increase in the production of both raw materials and manufactured products. This helped to create stronger national economies and brought about the social advances of the first industrial revolution.
Industry 2.0: the growth of production automation
Just as in the first industrial revolution, the progress of the economy was driven by the invention of one entrepreneur. This man was Henry Ford, a giant of the automotive industry, who was trying to find a cheaper, quicker way of producing one of his cars.
To build the Model T, the chassis stood still in the production line while individual parts were brought to it and fixed on by factory workers. This was a thoroughly inefficient and time-consuming mounting process, with each car taking several hundred hours to build. However, as tastes changed and the demand for the Model T dropped, Ford needed to find a faster, more cost-efficient way to produce this car and make its price more competitive.
Between 1909-1912, Ford made a number of improvements to increase productivity, reducing the man-hours used to build a car to 150. However, it was the development of the moving assembly line that really made a difference to the factory’s productivity.
The moving assembly line was not only more efficient, meaning that a car only took 75 hours to build, but helped industrialists to make high-quality products without the need for highly skilled workers. Just from his 1921 reorganization of the factory, Ford cut his workforce by 25%, increasing output per employee by 23%.
The invention of the assembly line coincided with the advent of the First World War, where the faster production of essential equipment was needed. This led to the wide adoption of moving production lines, and the economic benefits that came with it.
Industry 3.0: intelligent automation
No single invention sparked the beginning of the third industrial revolution. Similarly to Industry 4.0, it was a gradual introduction and development of technology with the aim of increasing efficiency, improving safety and lowering costs.
At Essentra Components, we experienced these changes with the development and increased automation of our injection molding machines. This upgraded machinery enabled us to make a range of improvements on our production line, including:
- Improving worker safety – previously, workers had to load granules into the machine. With the new machines, they were fed automatically into the system, reducing worker contact with machinery on the shop floor
- Increased output – as the market moved from single to multi-cavity tooling, we were able to make multiple products from one round of the process. This led to a huge increase in our production volumes
- Making our distribution more efficient – the introduction of warehouse management software allowed us to radically increase our efficiency in getting our products from the shop floor to the customer.
As a manufacturer, we were just one of the businesses to benefit from the greater efficiencies and benefits of automation. Now, as then, we continue to invest in the latest technology to make sure we can continuously improve our processes and deliver hassle-free service to our customers.
Industry 4.0: what’s next?
The fourth industrial revolution is still ongoing. As manufacturers start to adopt its technologies and processes, it’s presenting its own benefits, challenges and opportunities for manufacturers like Essentra Components.
A recent survey of manufacturers by MPI Group reported that 90 percent of respondents said Industry 4.0 would have at least ‘some’ impact on their business in the next five years. Indeed it’s predicted by McKinsey and Company that manufacturing 4.0 innovations will create $3.7 trillion in value by 2025.
But with impacts that are so far-reaching, how do we define Industry 4.0 and get to grips with its pros and cons?
At Essentra Components, we’ve been working on a long-term strategy to help us build the best, most hassle-free customer service possible. However, as Scott Fawcett, Divisional Managing Director for Essentra Components, explains, we recognize that this revolution is unique to the rest.
He says, “Industry 4.0 will revolutionize the existing technologies and capabilities within the manufacturing and production industry, making them smart, integrated, connected and digitized.
“The advancements in data and powerful analytics mean the systems can trawl through huge sets of data and produce insights to be acted upon quickly. Data sharing via the cloud vastly improves efficiency, allowing manufacturers like us to respond to customers and their behaviors quickly, cost effectively and without ever compromising on quality.”