Thanks to the Internet of Things, we now have access to more data than ever. Industry analytics allows us to learn from this data, optimise things, and make the entire process more efficient.
This is leading to new ways of thinking about business and manufacturing, which could have big implications for the future of the planet.
Industry 4.0 revolves around the capture of data and the automation of processes. Connectivity between machines allows for seamless communication, improving efficiency across all levels of the business. It is most often built of autonomous robots, AI systems, augmented and virtual realities, the Internet of Things, cloud storage, additive manufacture, and analytics.
Smart machines use sensors and communication networks to work together, generating data which can be analysed for improvements. This all builds towards more refined systems of manufacturing, known as circular economies.
A circular economy is a system which relies on generating as little waste as possible, with the end-goal of eliminating all waste completely. While no system can escape entropy entirely, a circular economy is modelled on a closed system, designed to be regenerative.
Most economies are built around a start and end point, with a product reaching the end when it is no longer usable. Traditional capitalism is predicated on three stage of manufacture: make, use, dispose. However, we’re only just waking up to the fact that we can’t actually ‘dispose’ of most of what we make, at least not in a safe way. The circular economy model works by utilizing only what already exists within the system for maximum efficiency and long-term sustainability.
Consumable features or components are phased out in favour of durable ones. Circular economies are growing in importance across all sectors, as we’re moving into an era where resources are of peak importance and must be utilised to their fullest potential, and limiting pollution is a main concern.
This marks an ideological shift for businesses, moving from a cycle of endless consumption to one of upgrading, maintaining, and long-term use. It will be interesting to see how companies like Apple, who have made a business through the planned (and carefully orchestrated) obsolescence of their own products, will deal with the rising demand for circular economies from their user base.
Thanks to a shift in consumer awareness and behavior, we’re seeing more and more of a demand for big businesses to adopt circular economies instead of linear ones which create waste. Industry 4.0 is making this easier to achieve.
Resource costs are highly volatile. Mined resources are rising in cost as supplies run lower. Applying a circular economy model ensures that all processes utilize sustainable materials, meaning a more cost-effective product. Thanks to technological progress, we can now lock down exactly where systems rely on dwindling resources, and identify alternatives that can do that same job without harmful waste.
Short feedback loops, like the ones utilised in circular economies, result in more recovered value. A shorter loop typically means a more efficient process, and analytics can verify if this is indeed the case, or if more work needs to be done.
On top of this, human error makes up the vast majority of problems during manufacture. The backbone of industry 4.0 is automation, removing the possibility of human mistakes, resulting in stronger, more reliable products, and a more efficiency production process.
Industry 4.0 has lead to increased innovation on a scale not seen since the first industrial revolution. Circular economies in turn have lead to companies rethinking their entire manufacturing process.
Innovation on both a micro and macro level can have big implications for any industry.
Read more about the internet of things, or learn how new technology will change the future of the engineering industry.