By now I am sure you have heard of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In Germany, this revolution is being referred to as “Industry 4.0,” and is a common topic of conversation amongst futurists, pundits, analysts and those of us working in the manufacturing industry.
As I see it, my vision of this fourth revolution is for “cyber-physical” production systems where sensor-laden “smart products” tell machines how they should be processed. Business processes will be capable of self-governance across a decentralized, modular system. Smart, embedded devices can then start working seamlessly together by connecting wirelessly – either directly or via either the Internet “cloud.” This Internet of Things (IoT) will then, once again, revolutionize production. Rigid, centralized factory control systems will ultimately give way to decentralized intelligence as machine-to-machine communication hits the shop floor.
Let me give you a couple of examples as a way to help better explain this vision so as to help you see how close we have already become, and how the next steps are really just around the corner.
Warehouse Picking Example
Let’s say I have a pallet I want to move from one location to another in my warehouse. Today, an operator might use a Warehouse Management application, such as what Apriso provides, to see a list of movement tasks. The system would then identify the pallet to next pick, and then tell me where it is. I would then go to the pallet and scan it to validate, at which point I would take it with my forklift and go to the new location I was instructed by my screen user interface. Once I had made it to the new location, I would then scan a code to validate in the system it was at its new location.
Stated differently, this series of actions are performed to execute the actual movement. What is happening in parallel is a manual synchronization of the real to the virtual worlds so that the data in the system reflects reality.
In the “new” world, you drive up to pick the next pallet as instructed visually by the system, but you don’t need to scan anything. If you are correct, then you won’t hear any alerts. But if your initial guess was incorrect, the forklift would automatically prompt you to choose a different one. Once your destination was achieved, the production line equipment would instruct the forklift exactly where to place the pallet, and then would immediately update the rest of the system that the inventory had been successfully moved. Similar systems already exist and they don’t even require operators. Check out these two videos of Amazon’s picking system:
This video shows the role robots are now playing with warehouse picking activities, and how things have advanced.
In my next post, I’ll take a deeper look at what impact mobility is having on the fourth industrial revolution.
Michal can be found on Google+