It has been almost eight years since someone first mentioned the "Fourth Industrial Revolution", and probably many of us are wondering, when was the Third?
The "Third Industrial Revolution" started during the Cold War era - with the great challenges between the US and the USSR for the conquest of space, seen as the preface of all the technological and scientific achievements.
Thanks to the cultural challenges we arrived to a Digital Revolution where the keywords were "Electronics","Telematics","Computer Science"," Multimedia" and "New Economy."
Industry 4.0 introduces a new watchword; "Smart Factory."
The theorist indicate that the "Cyber-physics systems" ("physical" systems strictly and inextricably connected to "computer" systems) are the keystone of Industry 4.0.
It is in this sense that "Smart Factory" becomes the fusion between "Smart Production" (the "intelligent" interaction between operators, machines and tools), "Smart Services" (the "intelligent" set of IT structures and not allowing direct and unmediated communication between customers and suppliers, as well as between companies and external structures) and "Smart Energy" (everything that "smart" contributes to reducing energy consumption and likewise the environmental impact of industrial production).
The objection that could arise spontaneously is that the concept is just a slogan to bring back to the table a stale old wine.
In reality it is not, simply because "things change", they evolve.
We have entered the "age of variability", where the acceleration of technological progress and continuous mutability - not to say fickleness - of knowledge in many disciplinary fields impose the duty to think and develop continuously new strategies, in conditions of ever-increasing complexity and uncertainty.
What today seems "new" and "innovative", in a year could already be forgotten.
In this context, it is clear that the game will probably play on two fields:
• Processes and products must not only use, but "incorporate" pre-coded information and at the same time constantly interact with many variables of the operating environment, exchanging information with the "protagonists" involved, whether they are other producers and / or other consumers.
• In this scenario communication skill , combined with professionalism, become essential for the operators' expertise: we are in the presence of overcoming the traditional concept of "individual tasks", because what each one does is included into a set of information flows that change constantly.
However, at this point it would be necessary to avoid a potential misunderstanding: when we think of Industry 4.0 it can be misleading to think generically in terms of "IT culture" as a natural continuation of "computer literacy".
We come from decades of computer literacy; now in almost all manufacturing companies that over the years we have known and helped to grow and improve, the various Information Systems that make up the "Information management system” in many cases already exchange data without anyone making or saying anything.
Almost all the operators who work on the machines have not used paper, pen and ink to write down what they have done or to record the data collected for a long time.
But...things change, and all this is probably not enough anymore.
Let's just think for a moment how we still work - and produce - in many of the known manufacturing companies, and we try to ask ourselves some questions.
• Is the work and skill set of humans focused on doing only "smart" things?
• Is it not a waste of time (and therefore "value") to do repetitive things, or in any case relate to a scenario that is absolutely predictable and controllable by an algorithm?
• Are IT processes, planned to direct and control physical processes,just something aleatory or are they the ones that make the machines work, allowing human resource to do "smart" and "more useful" things?
• Is the "company data" something "unique" and "univocal" (collected and catalogued in a single form, with a single method, in a precise moment, from a single person or from a single system and made available of all in the same form, substance and usability) or is something scattered in a thousand different places, at the mercy of the initiative of individuals and the "interpretative goodwill" of who wants or has to use?
If the answers to these questions are what I think, then it can be said that Industry 4.0 can make sense, rather it does and is not just a slogan.
And if someone asked, "What should I do to move from words to facts?", I would suggest looking around, to be able to see not so much what the imaginary can sink into reality, but what from a reality concreated and realized can be an inspiration to (lack of) imagination.
It comes up on my mind a typical scenario in EOS Textile Ltd. (Savar, Bangladesh), where the fully automated interaction between our NOW ™ System and Automha S.p.A. allows not only to optimize the loading and unloading flows of all materials and finished products, but also to eliminate any errors due to incorrect communication or an incorrect interpretation of what and how it should be loaded in or taken from the warehouse.
And always in the EOS, thanks to the interaction between NOW ™ and the Antara ™ frame control system of INCAS SpA, the weaving production is programmed on all the machines and kept under constant control, thus allowing to plan in advance the following processing phases, as well as having in real time the visibility of every single piece of fabric produced.
Or the Flash SRB doo (Apatin, Serbia) where all the systems for the management of the dyeing department of the fabrics are interconnected to NOW ™, and to be precise the management of the dyeing laboratory of the lntex System srl, or the volumetric doser of SALCE srl, of the control of the dyeing machines of the Orgatex Setex Gmbh, of the "color kitchen" of Datacolor; here all the systems speak the same language: a single article code, a single color code, a single combination of recipe and color, a single "Production Order" valid for communicating to all systems what has to be sampled or produced, and collect systems from what has been produced, in what quantity, at what time, how long and consuming what dyes and auxiliary materials.
Or the Stamperia di Martinengo s.r.l. (Martinengo, ltaly) where all the performed activities in some of the printing, steaming and washing is transferred in real time into NOW ™, and where NOW ™ - through the maintenance of an "inferential engine" of the data received from the machines - it is able in turn to "propose" to the machines themselves which is the appropriate evaporation and/or washing process for each item to be produced, or which is the correct setup of the printing machine cylinders for a given design.
In short, a taste of A.I. that does not hurt...
We can find many other examples as the ones above- taken randomly by our historical clients - ranging from relatively minimal situations (collection of machine control data with handheld terminals, through barcode readings) to rather "pushed" situations (functions on the ERP system that directly control the PLCs of the machines, side by side or surrogating "in toto" to the operator's action).
But Industry 4.0 is not - and should not be - just a mere question of "enabling technologies" : studying and fine-tuning what is the "information management system" everything must contribute to "producing more and better, wasting less".
If a mantra must exist, it should be the "revolution" we are called to live: fewer passages, fewer people involved, less chance of error, more alternatives allowed, more exceptions managed, more flexibility in interpreting a situation, of a condition, wider margins of action in decision-making processes, narrower margins in repetitive processes, less time lost to trigger and control something related to an algorithm, more time spent thinking and verifying what an algorithm will never judge in the merit.