Industry 4.0: The factory of tomorrow will be autonomous

If your idea of a factory is like that of Charlie Chaplin in his film Modern Times, prepare to be amazed by Industry 4.0. Ultra-connected, ultra-modern, and ultra-sophisticated, the factory of the future takes more after a science-fiction film.

Factory of the future, Industry 4.0, cyber-factory or connected factory: Regardless of what it is called, this transformation of industry represents a revolution in manufacturing processes based on new technologies and innovative concepts. Why is it called Industry 4.0?

Because before arriving at this point, three successive industrial revolutions have already taken place:

  • The first, in the 18th century, was characterised by mechanised production using coal and the development of the steam engine….
  • The second, at the end of the 18th century, allowed for mass production after the arrival of electric power.
  • The third, in the middle of the 20th century, allowed for automated production, using machine control and robots.

With Industry 4.0, the sector is entering its fourth revolution, characterised by a merging of the Internet and factories. At each link in the production and supply chains, tools and workstations communicate constantly via the Internet and virtual networks. Machines, systems, and products exchange information both among themselves and with the outside. By optimising production tools, manufacturers hope to speed up production at a lower cost, and in a more environmentally sound way.

In 2014 the government has launched 34 initiatives to revitalise the industrial sector in France. Among them, the Factory of the Future programme aims to help SMEs modernise their production tools.

A transformation of industry more than a revolution

The main tools needed to implement Industry 4.0 already exist: sensors, controllers, big data (lien vers lexique), the Internet of Things (lien vers lexique), cloud computing (lien vers article cloud computing)… More than a technological revolution, Industry 4.0 is rather a total reorganisation of the mode of production using existing tools and placing greater reliance on networks. This new generation of factories aims to revive the dynamism of European industry in several ways: by modernising production, increasing competitiveness, and positioning manufacturers to face the challenges of globalisation.…

Specifically, what does Industry 4.0 mean?

Behind this initiative waits a real revolution: by being interconnected, machines are capable of manufacturing products intelligently. In fact, this is reflected in many ways, for example:

  • More flexible production which allows for real-time adaptation to demand.
  • Advanced tracking to inform us not only where and when a product was manufactured but also by what method. In addition, security checks throughout the manufacturing process allow for rapid and precisely targeted recalls in case of failure.
  • Machines capable of contacting a specialist to troubleshoot them at distance, and which can update themselves and improve their performance through the Internet.
  • A scripted manufacturing cycle in which production is directed according to the customer’s requirements and which is capable of personalising the product (size, colour, packaging…).
  • Optimisation of consumption based on energy efficiency: Production is optimised according to the cost of energy and its availability throughout the day, while it is less expensive or while alternative energies can be used. Machines are also powered down if they do not need to be running. Information feedback can also help to optimise consumption and thus participate in the energy efficiency of the factory.
  • In addition to improving the security and safety of personnel at work, these factories allow greater value to be placed on people by assigning them tasks that add value.

Industry 4.0 from VINCI Energies

Actemium, the VINCI Energies brand dedicated to industrial processes, is active in optimising the production, maintenance, and energy efficiency of factories. For example, it has implemented a computerised industrial system for real-time production to be able to ship car seats on demand. The manufacturing of a seat is thus initiated at the same time as the production of the vehicle in which it will be installed, so is “just in time”. Actemium has also designed a software application that permits 3D virtualisation of a manufacturing plant. Assembly lines are displayed using the latest networked modelling technologies. The plant takes form before our eyes. Every significant change (addition of an assembly line, an element in the production chain…) is modelled to verify its integration with the current process.

Connections among machines engender many challenges for manufacturers: how to get them to communicate with each other, as well as how to collect, store, and manage the vast amount of information derived from their sensors. Axians, the VINCI Energies brand dedicated to information and communications technology (ICT), is involved and implements efficient telecommunications infrastructures along with cloud computing. The same brand also creates, manages, and ensures the maintenance of the IP network necessary for inter-machine communication.