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Industry 4.0: Taking a Look into the Past, Present, and Future of Manufacturing

May 17, 2017  |  Lindsay Derda

The introduction of new technology can be disruptive: change is challenging for businesses and their employees. But the smart factory of the future is quickly becoming a reality, and even those hesitant to embrace these advancements are finding it hard to ignore. We’re on the cusp of Industry 4.0 – a trend that is redefining how companies approach materials handling.

A glimpse into the past

Though one is most commonly referenced, there have actually been three previous Industrial Revolutions. The introduction of mechanical processes (the loom and steam power) characterized the first Industrial Revolution, the implementation of the assembly line introduced the second, and we entered the third Industrial Revolution in the 1970s with the creation of automated programming.

Each of these movements shared the common goal of cutting costs while increasing efficiency. In 2017, interconnected automated systems will be the defining technology for the fourth Industrial Revolution, creating a powerful new standard for the manufacturing industry where data can be shared across systems, yielding meaningful insights that can be used to create a lean environment. The applications of a truly connected enterprise in manufacturing extend to bottom line results such as greater opportunities for reducing expenses and optimizing operations.

Present-day outlook

We are in the midst of a major shift that will redefine how our manufacturing processes and industry operate. The amount of data collected from connected, digital devices is growing exponentially, enabling more robust business insights. According to a report from Deloitte, the top four ways companies are using IoT systems are for real-time analytics (31%), customer and/or supplier collaboration (28%), customer/market insight (26%) and quality control (25%). This information is already helping manufacturers today increase flexibility, optimization, and safety, but the IoT concept also applies to automated robotics. 

Today, automation no longer implies standalone robots operating independently of one another and their human colleagues; instead, we are seeing more robust, holistic automation solutions, which leverage big data and the Internet of Things. By connecting hardware and software, as well as various different vendor solutions, manufacturers can maintain comprehensive control over, and visibility into, their entire operation.

Envisioning the Future

When it comes to creating lean environments for customers’ facilities, the ease of information sharing across platforms is crucial. As we embark upon the Industry 4.0 shift, we are going to see creative solutions that make the manufacturing industry even more productive and efficient. Be prepared to see self-driving vehicles working side by side with human employees and plant managers staying up to date with reports and dashboards associated with the robots across the plant floor.

Aligned with Industry 4.0, Seegrid’s self-driving vehicles are part of a complete connected solution for materials handling. Our VGVs collect data as they navigate and report back to Seegrid Supervisor, a fleet management and enterprise intelligence tool. Supervisor gives companies real-time visibility into the efficiency of material movement throughout their entire operation. Management can track operations at a glance and team members on the floor know exactly when their materials will arrive.

Industry 4.0 may be still taking shape, but today’s manufacturing innovators are already working within this new industrial revolution with many to follow suit; companies that have already introduced automation into their facilities are ahead of the curve. These are the companies that understand the need not just for self-driving vehicles but also for data-driven, connected systems. This new interconnected approach to automation introduces us to a bright future, leading us toward the next generation of smart factories.

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Future of Automation Manufacturing Industry 4.0