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Future Production Management Solution: Industry 4.0

3 July 2020 by Dr. Zhuo Bingyu, Associate Scientist, Big Idea Ventures


COVID 19, or also known as Coronavirus, has shone light on the importance in securing essential food and pharmaceutical supply chains. The impact of the virus has demonstrated how labour and input materials could be strained in such a pandemic where movement of workers and goods are being restricted. In addition to the rapid global urbanisation and ageing population, there is an urgency to review the methodology in the current manufacturing industry with aim to increase throughput, reduce reliance on manpower, while maintaining quality and safety of the product.

Source: Spectral Engines, Cushman & Wakefield Research

The figure above shows how the manufacturing industry has evolved since first industrialisation.

With the fast development in digitisation, which led to high-speed networks (rolling and implementation of 5G network), management of big data, and the introduction to the new forms of mobile devices (such as phones and tablets), it is obvious that next industrial evolution, namely Industry 4.0, will have to harness and integrate such technology into their current manufacturing ideology. Industry 4.0, first introduced in 2011, is a movement to connect along the value chain, sensors, manufacturing equipment, workpieces, and IT systems beyond a sole organisation. The network is able to communicate with each other virtually and conduct data analysis to predict failure, and adapt to deviations. Industry 4.0 is built on nine technological pillars: Big Data and analytics; Autonomous robots; Simulation; Augmented reality; Horizontal and vertical integration; Cybersecurity; Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT); The Cloud; and Additive manufacturing. With these technologies, a “Smart Factories” can be created to establish consistent digitisation and linking all productive units.

It was reported that the implementation of Industry 4.0 increases productivity, flexibility (allows production lines to react to market demand or customised order), food safety (food traceability system for bulk raw material to individual food products), and quality, while reducing waste. Moreover, Industry 4.0 can reduce the size of the workforce on ground.

In order to create a fully connected and flexible system, where a continuous stream of data from related operations and manufacturing systems are collected in order to learn, react, and adapt to new demands, Industry 4.0 relies no only on the new advancement in information technology but also requires enhancement on sensory, process optimisation simulation, analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence technologies.

With all the benefits in implementing Industry 4.0, there are challenges and costs which will hinder the transition. The conversion will require significant investment into replacement of serviceable process lines with new equipment and acquiring skilled workforce with the essential qualifications. Some high-tech solutions will be also required in order for the evolution to be feasible. Other than monetary cost, Industry 4.0 also needs a high level of understanding of the entire process (from market demand, supply chain, to manufacturing). Firstly, the manufacturer has to identify the key parameters to all the processes and how it affects the entire production planning in meeting the market demand. Subsequently, artificial intelligence has to be able to predict and react to deviations in the market, supply line, and process parameters, and generate immediate response. It is also vital to appreciate that the automation or digitising of the factory will not resolve all human-based problems and high level monitoring is necessary. It is to note that an individual company will possess its own unique challenges, requirements, and capability. Thus, the technology has to be tailored individually.

While being able to identify the key parameters, good and reliable data has to be captured for the entire business to be successful. The phrase, “Rubbish in, rubbish out” (or “garbage in, garbage out” across the pond), best describes instances when bad data are obtained. Consistent feedback has to be gathered, in hand with the advancement in sensory technology, to provide information into existing operations and workflows, tracking and locating items, and determining their environmental conditions. The challenge that the food manufacturing industry encounters in achieving such a feedback loop is to develop online measurement techniques for many parameters that are typically monitored off-line. Good simulations of the manufacturing process, supply chain, product quality, and market behaviour are also essential in order to maximize production to match demand and reduce waste.

Despite the progressive developments of the pillar technologies in the food sector, Industry 4.0 is relatively new and lacks maturity level in some technologies and the essential workforce profile. These can be changed with the Covid-19 pandemic which has identified problems in the key manufacturing industries. Together with the increasing global competitiveness market trend, more companies will be driven to adapting Industry 4.0. It is clear that the company can profit from Industry 4.0 through increasing resource efficiency, cost reduction, widening market access, enhancing management, improving food safety, and providing greater transparency.

This report was contributed by knowledge partner:


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