Is Industry 4.0 smart?

Industry 4.0 is a collective term for technologies and concepts of value chain organization. Based on the technological concepts (i.e. RFID, IoT, Big Data), and it facilitates the vision of the Smart Factory. Within the modular structured Smart Factories of Industry 4.0 physical objects and processes represented in a virtual world (Digital Twins) to make decentralized controls and decisions. Both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and utilized by participants of the value chain. Although Industry 4.0 is currently a hype, a generally accepted definition of the term does not exist.

Industry 4.0 promises a new interface between product development, production, maintenance, and thus all main value-adding processes toward the customer’s requirements. New processes, e.g. integrated product and production system development, intensify data exchange between departments and organizations. Furthermore, Industry 4.0 enables, as proponents claim, intelligent and flexible information interchange between man, machines, products, services, equipment, and tools. Maintenance in the world of Industry 4.0 is seen a set of activities that detect changes in the physical condition of equipment in order to carry out the appropriate maintenance, at the right time, without increasing the risk of failure.

The buzzword Industry 4.0, was introduced at Hannover fair in 2011 in Germany to present a new trend toward the networking of traditional industries. In management literature since then, it is suggested that Industry 4.0 is closely related to other technological concepts, such as Machine- to-Machine (M2M) communication, radio frequency identification (RFID), the Internet of Things (IoT), the Internet of Services (IoS), Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Data Mining (DM), and Machine Learning.

In many respects the promises with regard to Industry 4.0 are more or less similar to those of FMS (flexible manufacturing system) from the 90’s of the last century. A FMS in that days is was seen as a manufacturing system in which flexibility allows the system to react in case of changes, whether predicted or unpredicted. This flexibility is considered to cover the system’s ability to produce new product types, and ability to change the order of operations. Flexibility in a FMS setting, also promises the ability to absorb large-scale changes, such as in volume, capacity, or capability. The expected benefits and main advantages of an FMS, its high flexibility in resources like time and effort, have never been fully realized.

So far, most of the ‘so called’ intelligent machinery assumed to include artificial neural networks, fuzzy logic systems, fuzzy-neural networks, neural-fuzzy systems, evolutionary algorithms, and swarm intelligence. Given the limited possibilities of the earlier and current generation of assets, it might be better to talk about signal processing instead of information processing. Strictly speaking, the information processing of even complex assets consists of nothing more than the rearrangement of signals, according to purely syntactic rules. Signals can only be assigned meaning in combination with human intelligence. Only with the help of human cognition can a fully-fledged ‘intelligent’ information processing system be created. By discussing the definition of Industry 4.0, a more common reasonable understanding of the term will be created, which is needed for a reasonable professional discussion about the topic.

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