Solutions from Industry 4.0 Technologies

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Prior to the crisis, Industry 4.0 was an area of great interest to many manufacturers. It was an exciting topic with huge potential benefits and was widely regarded as a ‘positive’ and future thinking topic. The business drivers of Industry 4.0 before the crisis were focused on competitive advantage, cost reduction, productivity, sustainability and innovation. The goal was to make well run businesses run even better.


The focus for many manufacturers now is survival first and foremost and beyond that, damage limitation. Therefore, at this point it seems insensitive and inappropriate to discuss Industry 4.0 in the way it was discussed before the crisis. When we study the role already it is playing during the survival phase- and what it can potentially play during the revival and post recovery phase, I am sure we all will be convinced about its relevance-which I propose to illustrate in this article.

What are the macro & micro drivers & impact of the crisis on global manufacturing?

We have learnt from History that every global crisis creates a fundamental shift that affect government policies, consumer behaviour and industrial sectors for years to come. For example witness the World War 2, the Gulf War 1974, the 9/11 terrorism, the global financial recession of 2009, and now the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020. After every major crisis, humanity has learnt how to survive, revive and recover into a “New Normal” life style.

In my view, there are at least 5 immediate effects of this crisis:

• The pandemic hit manufacturers in an unexpected and unprecedented way. For the first time in modern manufacturing history, demand, supply and workforce availability are affected globally at the same time.
• Social distancing and employee safety measures have put an additional level of pressure on manufacturers, as almost 50% of their workforce will not be available to perform their functions on-site.
• While office employees and knowledge workers are able to shift to remote work as the default operating mode, most factories are simply not designed to be managed remotely and they lack the tools and infrastructure needed to support such activities.
• The pandemic presents a critical moment for global supply chain and manufacturing-especially in North America and Western Europe. Being lean and globalized in structures, the Supply Chains of many companies became specifically prone to the epidemic outbreaks.
• More adversely, the coronavirus causes simultaneous disturbances in both supply and demand. It is clear from events unfolding before us that one of the major weaknesses is a lack of real-time visibility across the business, to support critical business decisions.
It is true that the pandemic is causing not just manufacturers, but entire nations, to re-evaluate global supply chains. Japan has moved first; its national bank is allocating billions of dollars to assist its domestic manufacturers in reshoring production from China. Subsidies will cover relocation expenses and investments in labour-saving automation (including robots). Likewise, Australia, South Korea, France, Germany and even USA has announced their new intentions to bring back manufacturing into their own territories. On 12th May our own Prime Minister announced a mission to go Local in becoming a Self-Reliant nation in every segment of economy.
Is Industry 4.0 relevant in the backdrop of the crisis and how is it helping to manage the crisis right now?
Technologies such as 3D printing, Augmented Reality, Drones, and Intelligent Robotics have played a vital role in combating the Pandemic in the last six months.

(1) Additive Manufacturing for Healthcare:
A world-leading UK specialist in custom prototypes and low-volume production parts, called PROTOLABS, is using its unprecedented speed-to-market to help support the frontline battle against Covid-19: using its 3D printing, CNC machining and injection moulding expertise to produce critical parts for testing and ventilator masks. 3D printed ‘Charlotte’ valves are being rapidly produced and shipped direct to the customer ISINNOVA, who are producing kits that can be used to create a non-invasive ventilator mask.
There are several international case studies of 3D printing, which many manufacturers are using to quickly meet the surge in demand for face shields (Boeing), ventilator valves (Isinnova), testing swabs (Form labs), and personal protective gear (Ford).
3D printing offers considerable geographic flexibility. Many Indian automobile manufacturers in 2 & 4 wheeler industry adapted their facilities to manufacture ventilator parts.

(2) Intelligent Robot for Disinfection
Taken from design to sample production in just seven days Intelligent disinfection robots are helping to stop the spread of Coronavirus and other viruses in hospitals. As the spread of the virus began to increase, Head of SIEMENS China’s Research Group for Advanced Manufacturing Automation, asked himself what he could do to help control the infection by leveraging cutting-edge technologies. His idea garnered immediate support from his managers at the laboratory for robotic applications, co-established by SIEMENS & AUCMA, the focus of which is on ‘developing special robots, unmanned vehicles, industrial robots, and intelligent equipment’.

(3) Augmented Reality, The New Normal
COVID-19 will accelerate the business world’s move to Augmented Reality (AR) and other IoT solutions, as companies look to adapt to a ‘new working normal’. Whilst Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become a norm for office workers, physical specialists have embraced digital transformation to build ventilators, deliver crucial training to apprentices and solve production bottlenecks on automotive lines. This has been achieved by allowing remote experts to see the physical world in video and annotate objects during the call, using a smart phone, tablet or wearable technology, such as Microsoft HoloLens glasses. It enables them to capture every step of the process and create an interactive step-by-step guide for other people to follow, even in a factory thousands of miles away. Traditionally, this would involve engineers travelling to the factory, but suddenly it is made difficult due to social distancing and travel. The crisis has forced industries to adapt quicker than it probably would have done under normal economic circumstances, but now having tasted the operational and financial benefits it can deliver, we can see a major rise in adoption.

(4) Drones, the Savior:
In this war against this invisible enemy, drones play a key role by helping authorities and people in atleast six different ways to prevent further spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

a. Surveillance: Where individuals are not complying with the restrictions knowingly or unknowingly, law enforcing authorities such as the local police or municipal authorities are using drones to monitor people’s movement and break up social gatherings that could pose a risk to society.
b. Broadcasting: Drones equipped with loudspeakers are used to make public announcements to keep people indoors, take necessary precautions, make social-distancing and wear a mask if stepping outside from home.
c. Disinfectant Spraying: To disinfect public spaces and prevent the further spread of virus, health authorities are deploying agriculture spray drones to carry out tasks like spraying disinfectant in potentially affected areas.
d. Medicine and Grocery Deliveries: Drones are the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies and transport samples from hospitals to laboratories and even delivering groceries to red zones where outside physical contact should be minimum.
e. Temperature Check: During the peak of the epidemic in China, authorities were carrying out large-scale remote temperature measurement in most apartment complexes through the drones, using infrared devices.
f. Temporary Hospitals: In several countries including China, Germany, and the United States, empty fields have been converted into temporary hospitals to ease the pressure on hospitals that are already functioning at full capacity, both using drones, for survey and illumination of construction sites.

Last Mile Connectivity and Remote Maintenance: Drones
According to a new European aerospace study involving 320 aerospace business leaders there is an increased appetite for ‘low space’ innovation- over (53%) believe that commercial drone last mile delivery of products- will be commonplace in next three years. Besides, Drones coupled with AR will be very useful for Remote Maintenance of installations in Mining, Power, Airline, Defence, and Oil & Gas.

Solutions for Recovery, Post-Recovery After the Pandemic
(1) Robotics & Automation-Cobots

While job functions involving marketing, sales, management, finance, and R&D can work virtually, execution at the assembly line needs to start rolling out at specific physical locations and on time. The dependence on a migrant workforce in manufacturing belts across the country also needs to be mitigated. By using automation in their plants and assembly lines, manufacturers can overcome these issues. Collaborative Robots (cobots) are widely accepted as an effective platform for fast and efficient automation. The Dull, Dangerous, Dirty, Difficult and Distancing are the 5Ds for considering Robotic automation. Challenges caused by an acute shortage of labor, changes in assembly lines, and supply and demand level fluctuations can easily be overcome with cobots. What are the major benefits and advantages of using cobots during the pandemic and beyond?

• Social Distancing: By enabling humans and machines to work simultaneously, cobots reduce contact between human workers, allowing them to maintain safe social distancing standards.
• Partial Automation: By identifying specific applications or processes to deploy cobots, instead of the whole plant, manufacturers can reduce capital expenditure significantly.
• Quick Deployment & Flexible Redeployment: In this uncertain environment, many manufacturers need to repurpose their assembly lines to focus on different products based on the urgency of requirements. Collaborative robots are one of the fastest automation solutions on the market to deploy and even redeploy for new applications, with setup often taking less than a day.
• Democratized Automation: Cobots help bridge the gap between large and small manufacturers in the world of automation. In fact, the sheer precision, cost-effectiveness, and competitiveness that cobots provide are unmatched in a globally competitive environment.
• Efficient Automation: An MIT Technology Review study found that there is an 85% reduction in idle time when humans and robots work together, which goes to show that cobots are not only safe but also effective in driving efficiency.

(2) Robotic Process Automation
Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is a technology that is integrated with business processes in order to optimise and automate repetitive activities, minimize human errors, and maximize agility and productivity. One well-known German automaker recently implemented RPA and successfully automated a total of 28 different tasks. The automated activities are now undertaken 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

(3) Remote Work & Collaboration
Virtual work is not just for the office anymore; it is a new reality that will fundamentally change the work environment in design, supplier quality, shop floor and after sales service. With social distancing measures in place, manufacturers may lose up to 50% of their on-site personnel. We will see the rapid adoption of remote diagnostic, management and collaboration tools. This will result in the emergence of a “virtual shift” that means a team of specialists will be connected remotely and constantly online- in order to guide and support the reduced “physical shift” of onsite personnel.
Enabled by real time data, AI-based insights and a range of communication and collaboration tools, coupled with AR, the “virtual shift” will help digitize and scale up the much-needed expertise across the organization and enable the onsite workforce to become more focused, effective, and ultimately significantly more productive.

(4)Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In difficult times, AI can help manufacturers increase operational efficiency and transparency across organizations with better monitoring, more precise and timely interventions and better quality control in order to build resilient and agile business operations with intelligence, insights and expertise.

For example, an AI application by IBM called Maximo Worker Insights puts compliance at the centre of safety, with the combination of advanced analytics and near real-time access to data from cameras, Bluetooth beacons, mobile phones, IoT wearable devices and environmental sensors, one can holistically manage both the facility and workers.

Machine learning and predictive data analytics have the potential to improve manufacturers at 3 levels, namely, the machine level, production cell level, and plant level through applications Predictive maintenance, Optimised supply chains, and Improved product and service quality.

Integration of Various 4.0 Technologies
How to respond flexibly and efficiently to ever new challenges and to make production future proof. When the crisis broke out, it presented a completely new situation not only for medical facilities and manufacturers of medical devices, but also for all those manufacturing companies whose employees suddenly had to work from home and no longer had access to many digital solutions or automation platforms. With the help of simulation tools, products and production processes can first be designed and optimized virtually -before actual production is set up and started.
Highly innovative automation technologies, combined with digitalized product development, make it possible to quickly develop and deliver tailored solutions through additive manufacturing in exceptional medical situations like the current pandemic. The remote commissioning, maintenance and repairs of machines is now possible in a digitalized world.
Sectors, such as the automotive industry, had to shut down production for weeks when demand suddenly slumped, but they all adapted their production to provide urgently needed components for medical devices. Many companies will now be considering ways to diversify their supply chains in view of the risks posed by global trade and the desire to produce closer to their markets.

They will then manufacture in smaller quantities at decentralized locations. In order to meet these growing needs for flexibility, speed and productivity, intelligent production is a must. And this, in turn, requires automation and digitalization. Smart Automation solutions are enabling technological innovations used specifically to alleviate the effects of the virus. And they make production processes so flexible, robust and efficient that companies can quickly and efficiently adjust their production to demand, both during the crisis and afterwards. In the future, these technologies will help ensure that companies can respond far faster and more efficiently to crisis situations and changing market demands.

Conclusion: Role of Industry 4.0- Way Forward
In the past decade, after the 2009 financial meltdown, advances in AI and IoT technologies have enabled tremendous efficiencies in predictability, capacity, availability and flexibility of supply chain and manufacturing operations. Up to 2019, many of these technologies and solutions were seen as a nice to have. With the pandemic, from 2020 onward Industry 4.0 has a different role: to assist that more companies survive as seen already, to shorten the recovery phase and to help return businesses to normal operations as soon as possible, provide the platform to develop new, and more resilient businesses in the medium to long term post-recovery phase. We should not neglect the opportunities of automation and digitisation while keeping our roots of labour intensive skills intact. Although, the degree of adoption may be varied depending on the industry and the readiness of the companies to make huge investments at this time, and readiness of skilled manpower to absorb the new technologies and applications, the crisis has certainly acted as a catalyst to the transition to automation, especially in building resilience among businesses for future disruptions. In the coming years, greater connectivity through 5g will mean significantly accelerated deployment of industrial IoT, including sensing, data visualization, remote collaboration AR tools and AI-based insights across their operations.