The fourth industrial revolution is all about modern technology, mass connectivity and the diversification of skills, but ‘thinking like an engineer’ will always be at the heart of the industry, writes Robert Smith.
Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are both prerequisites of the fourth industrial revolution, which, according to research published last year by manufacturers’ organisation EEF and digital Cloud specialist Oracle, will become a business reality in the UK by 2025.
The IIoT consists of any ‘thing’ that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the capability to transfer data over a secure network and into the Cloud, whereas Industry 4.0 is essentially the discrete manufacturing subcomponent of the IIoT.
Graeme Philp, chief executive officer at automation trade body Gambica, says: “The fundamental principle of Industry 4.0 is that digital technology allows both primary process information, used to control the manufacturing process, and secondary information, used for diagnostic, predictive or process improvement processes, to share a common network.”
The speed is fundamental to react to changes, such as customer requirements – due to changing culture and digital transformation, market and pressure from competitors, and even global events such as economic crises
Clemen Weiss, partner at Click Reply
He says the universal benefit of mass IIoT implementation across the engineering industry will be agility and flexibility.
Clemen Weiss, partner at supply chain execution firm Click Reply, says the biggest single benefit of the IIoT is the ability to adapt quickly to external forces.
“The speed is fundamental to react to changes, such as customer requirements – due to changing culture and digital transformation, market and pressure from competitors, and even global events such as economic crises,” Weiss says.
Mark Higham, Siemens UK & Ireland general manager for process automation, adds that being able to address increasingly diverse needs quickly and cost effectively will ensure companies survive and prosper in an IIoT world.
“The IIoT enables the mass customisation of products to be realised at a price the consumer is prepared to pay,” he says.
Mike Brown, senior director of marketing for Honeywell Connected Plant, says companies in the oil and gas and mining industries are the front-runners when it comes to implementing the IIoT. “This is because they have connected data...and they also have Source: Honeywell many ‘stranded’ assets placed in areas that are hard to populate,” Brown says.
“Also, there’s limited expertise at those sites to manage operational performance effectively. Therefore, anything you can do to connect these systems and remotely analyse the resulting data to detect problems before they happen can save a lot of time and money,” he adds.
Siemens’ Higham, by contrast, says it is the pharmaceutical industry that leads in IIoT implementation.
He argues this is because there are several strong trends driving the need for change in this industry.
“An example is the increasing demand for personalised medicines – where the drug and dosage is optimised for the specific patient condition. This means that, from a production perspective, more agility and flexibility is required to produce personalised medicines cost-effectively. Therefore companies need to build a complete digital enterprise, which links the patient demand seamlessly through production to dispatch,” Higham says.
Businesses within these process industry sectors are also beginning to adopt the concept of the ‘connected plant’.
Connected plants are designed to use ‘powerful’ new data analytical tools, such as IBM Watson, which can process large amounts of data and provide fresh insights into complex manufacturing processes, comments Higham.
“This insight can be used to predict equipment failure, describe remedial procedures, and optimise maintenance regimes, therefore reducing unwanted downtime.”
Higham adds that in order to unlock this data and apply artificial intelligence, the plant needs to be ‘connected’ from a sensor level through the automation layer.
Brown, meanwhile, says Honeywell’s own connected plant offering is all about bringing togethere IIoT capabilities with software solutions that optimise performance.
“Now that our systems are able to pull different pieces of data together from multiple facilities, the ability to optimise processes through machine learning and data analytics goes way up. We now have large amounts of various types of data from across the enterprise,” Brown says.
He adds that the richness of the company’s data sets, along with the ability to perform advanced analytics in the Cloud, is enabling Honeywell to bring about new insights for process improvements.
Now that our systems are able to pull different pieces of data together from multiple facilities, the ability to optimise processes through machine learning and data analytics goes way up
Mike Brown, senior director of marketing for Honeywell Connected Plant
Gambica’s Philp says that with the connected plant, the technology itself can communicate with other machines in the plant, and often with the product itself, throughout the entire supply chain, which helps maximise visibility and flexibility.
“The same machine-to-machine communications can also be used to continuously trim time off the process and identify process and product design weaknesses for improvement,” he says. So where do humans fit into this new world?
Fortunately, access to adequately skilled staff will also play a major role in the successful implementation of IIoT and the fourth industrial revolution.
Research by EEF and Oracle found that 83% of firms are gearing up to invest in staff skills, while 65% are investing in management skills.
This ensures that they can more easily adopt new advances in technology, such as multi-purpose production lines, capital equipment with embedded sensors and controls, and cloud solutions.
Employees will also need to adapt to 3D simulation technology, augmented reality and fully autonomous robots, the research adds.
EEF chief economist Lee Hopley says the fourth industrial revolution will be crucial for UK manufacturing.
“Manufacturers are aware that the fourth industrial revolution will be a game changer – not just for investment in technologies, but for the cutting-edge, high-level skills required alongside,” he commented.
As this revolution takes hold, companies will need to look to third-party experts, suggests Honeywell’s Brown.
“In addition to hiring engineers and operators, process manufacturers will need to consider the value of hiring in-house data scientists, although it’s completely possible that as analytics tools become simpler, they’ll be able to easily leverage data science expertise from third-party providers,” he says.
As process industry businesses become fully IIoT-enabled, Siemens’ Higham argues this will bring more opportunity and will “hopefully” make a career in engineering seem more attractive to young people.
The human aspect and experience will always be important. There will be the need to upskill engineers who have not grown up in the ‘new digital’ world, but this is an opportunity for organisations to invest in those people
Mark Higham, Siemens UK & Ireland
Currently, the engineering industry suffers from an annual deficit of 20,000 new engineers per year, according to a recent report by trade body EngineeringUK.
A joint letter from Malcolm Brinded, chairman of EngineeringUK and Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, which accompanied the report, said: “There continue to be real concerns and efforts should be redoubled to improve STEM education, to attract young people into engineering, and to retain, motivate and improve the skills of those already in the industry.”
To compound this issue, the process industry must also face the reality that is it losing senior engineers at an alarming rate.
Despite this, “thinking like an engineer” and understanding how and why things need to be done will not disappear from the industry, claims Higham.
“The human aspect and experience will always be important. There will be the need to upskill engineers who have not grown up in the ‘new digital’ world, but this is an opportunity for organisations to invest in those people,” he says.
“As with anything, change is not always easy and it is essential that senior engineers are brought along on this journey too.”