Manufacturers deal with ever-increasing stacks of information, both in structured and unstructured formats. The databases used for storing this information aren’t always interconnected, something that significantly reduces business value and customer expectations. In order to achieve innovation, customization and efficient production, siloed information would have to be analyzed as a whole. Industry 4.0 promises this through technologies such as IoT, Cloud-Computing and Big Data, however a string of challenges prevents its implementation in the manufacturing world.
Industry 4.0 is undoubtedly a hot topic in all research corners of the world. Still, there are manufacturers who are unaware of the possibilities that Industry 4.0 has to offer. Even if they are aware of the idea and its offerings, they are wary of its costs, complexities and risks.
Industry 4.0 will disrupt the current business models, processes and practices in unprecedented ways. Connected products and services will become a norm and transform the way employees work. In order to successfully deploy and maintain Industry 4.0 solutions, manufacturers would have to acquire the new people and skills.
The nature of existing jobs will change while some would become redundant. For instance, warehouse workers are already being replaced by autonomous robots. This trend will only pick-up pace as more technological breakthroughs are made in the field of AI and Sensors. But this will also give way to new roles, such as that of “Robotics Coordinator” and “Data Scientist”. A Robotics Coordinator would oversee robots on the plant floor, responding to failures and carrying out necessary maintenance. A Data Scientist would collect data and analyze it to provide insight into manufacturing processes and products.
This means that industrial workers would have to adapt a flexible mindset and accept change. People have already started taking on new roles and work environments. Operators are monitoring multiple machines and processes simultaneously while technicians are assisted by augmented-reality technologies. The implementation of Industry 4.0 will require greater flexibility within KPIs, higher IT competency and knowledge of multiple disciplines. Such requirements often elicit resistance to change from workers. Sooner or later, companies would have to come with strategies to motivate and train their workforce to deliver new products, services and processes to maintain competitiveness.
Traditional IT security is no longer enough to protect modern and upcoming digital factories and value chains. The entire security and stability of a company can be put in jeopardy even by the slightest ignorance of security policies. As manufacturing companies get on a path to innovation, their “attach surface area” greatly increases and they get more vulnerable. Imagine what would happen if a single power plant would shut down for a day due to a cybersecurity breach. Apart from millions of dollars in revenue losses, it will affect the company’s customers and ruin its reputation. But this doesn’t mean production should be kept within a “safe” range and innovation must be put on hold. Instead, cybersecurity risks would have to be mitigated. IoT devices and processes would have to uphold the highest level of security by design and integrate into existing automation systems would giving malicious entities even a glimpse of the architecture.
There is always the possibility of a Zero-day attack but that remains linked to almost every industry, and effects the best of enterprises. In order to respond to these, multiple layers of security mechanisms would have to be put in place to make processes resilient.
Industry 4.0 solution don’t come in cheap. Considerable investments are required for these implementations and the creation of robust, secure networks capable of powering them. Surely, higher ROI is an attractive argument, but comprehensive cost-benefit analysis would have to be carried out to justify huge investments.
The manufacturing industry is multi-faceted. No single vendor can fulfill the requirements of an Industry 4.0 solution, and collaboration is necessary to ensure the highest level of quality. The delivery of Industry 4.0 solutions would have to be facilitated in an ecosystem that provides a fluid framework for IT vendors, OT vendors, Sis and IoT startups.
As more devices and systems get interconnected and work in a tightly knit manner, existing manufacturing standards become insufficient to meet the technical, architectural and business needs. Conventionally, and even today, there are scores of devices that use proprietary communication protocols, resulting in data silos. This makes it exceptionally hard to link data from different sources and make sense out of it. In recent years, OPC UA has shown great promise but it still hasn’t been completely accepted as a universal standard. This is a particular challenge for organization whose plant floor is dependent on multiple architectures, standards and protocols.
Current industrial automation systems are a complication of proprietary technologies and networks. As time progresses, there would be an imperative need to interconnect, manufacturing operations management solutions, business planning, logistics solutions, industrial control systems, controllers (PLCs) and HMIs. Processes would no longer be controlled by RTUs but buy service-oriented, decentralized control systems made up of microcontrollers working in collaboration through internet standards. Hybrid IT environments are already combining traditional infrastructure with cloud computing to deliver flexible, efficient and sustainable solutions. Such approach would also have to be followed for Industry 4.0 implementations, otherwise the benefits would always be bottle necked by the complexity of outdated IT techniques.
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