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It’s all about digitization

Advanced robots, cloud-based solutions, 3D printers, sensors, measuring equipment, and augmented reality are among the technologies mentioned when talking about Industry 4.0. Some of the technologies have been around for a long time, while others are still being matured.

At the moment, these technologies are being combined in new ways to form so-called cyber-physical systems. These are physical units equipped with a computer that makes each unit capable of capturing data and communicating, thus integrating the physical world and the digital world. The smartphone is one example of a cyber-physical system. It can, for example, collect data such as the number of steps you walked yesterday and whether you walked in Jutland or on Bornholm, or it can tell you whether you are going to run into traffic jams on your way to work.

Quite apart from the fact that the technologies are here and are being integrated, Industry 4.0 is currently able to take off because of the plummeting costs of these technologies, writes the Boston Consulting Group and Innovation Fund Denmark in a report ‘Winning the Industry 4.0 Race’. The report makes the point that the costs of, for example, sensor technologies, cloud-based solutions, bandwidth, and computer performance have been crashing over the past decade. The technologies are now available to all companies almost regardless of size.

People talk about the technologies as the ‘enablers’—or catalysts—of Industry 4.0. This means that it is not the emergence of the technologies as such which constitutes the fourth industrial revolution; rather, it is the exploitation of these technologies and the value this creates which is the revolution.

Digitization of both product and production

Digitization in businesses can create value in the form of more efficient processes and fewer errors in production, completely new products or a brand new decision-making basis, explains Professor Hans Nørgaard Hansen, Head of Department at DTU Mechanical Engineering, which conducts research into production technology.

“Some companies are driven by the product perspective, i.e. they use technologies to produce new products or to add new functionalities to existing products. A new functionality could, for example, be incorporating sensors into a product, which send data from the consumer to the company via the internet. The data might, for example, provide information on when spare parts need to be replaced, or when the product needs to have a service,” says Hans Nørgaard Hansen.

In other companies, the focus is on the digitization of the production apparatus, explains the head of department: “Here, companies are working to integrate their production systems so that apparatuses, machines or robots communicate and exchange data with one another during the various production processes. Here, digitization is about organizing the entire production in a new way, and about using technology to ensure that production is more robust so that fewer errors occur. This can increase both the efficiency of the production system and the quality of the products,” says Hans Nørgaard Hansen.

When it comes to the digitization of products and production facilities, it is not a question of either-or—on the contrary: “If, as a company, you want to make the most of Industry 4.0, you need to digitalize both your products and your production, because it is the interaction between the two that will take you way ahead of your competitors,” says Hans Nørgaard Hansen. However, he also makes the point that companies need to invest a lot of work in finding out what to digitalize, and how it creates value in each case.

DTU is contributing to this work under the auspices of the MADE Digital consortium, which is an extension of the original MADE (Manufacturing Academy of Denmark) consortium.

Small companies lagging behind

In Denmark, it is primarily larger companies that have stepped into the Industry 4.0 era. The report ‘Winning the Industry 4.0 Race’, which is based on interviews with 530 Danish businesses, reveals that it is the small companies which are in danger of being left behind. The main barriers are a lack of three things in particular: knowledge, the right capabilities, and venture capital.

It is therefore proposed that a Danish ecosystem for Industry 4.0 should be created, which will be built up through several partnerships with companies and universities sharing and developing their knowledge together. It will be based at a number of demonstration centres, which Innovation Fund Denmark will help to establish in the course of 2017. Peter Høngaard Andersen, Managing Director at Innovation Fund Denmark, is expecting the universities to play a key role in this context:

“The universities are playing an important role as regards the demonstration centres, because they can step in with the latest knowledge about, for example, the Industry 4.0 technologies. Significant involvement of the universities will safeguard the centres’ long-term outlook by ensuring that they are always abreast of the latest knowledge. Moreover, it is our ambition that the centres will come to play a role in the recruitment of new students. They will be presented at an earlier stage to the link between the theoretical and practical aspects of the technologies which are part of Industry 4.0, and this can perhaps inspire them to choose an education in the technical sciences,” says Peter Høngaard Andersen.

Knowledge for society

Entering into close and value-adding interaction with society is a key aspect of DTU’s mission, and Executive Vice President, Provost Rasmus Larsen therefore sees DTU as an obvious player, both when it comes to disseminating and implementing knowledge about Industry 4.0 in Danish businesses, and when it comes to the University’s education of engineers with Industry 4.0 competences:

“DTU is, of course, a national resource that deliver engineers, knowledge and innovation to Danish enterprises. This also means that we catch major technology trends like Industry 4.0, and ensure that they are made available to Danish society. As Denmark’s largest technology platform, DTU has a special responsibility for supplying relevant, high-quality knowledge. In addition, as an internationally oriented university, it is also a question of bringing knowledge home to Denmark and incorporating it in our study programmes so that the engineers working in Danish trade and industry will be able to design tomorrow’s production systems and products,” says Rasmus Larsen.

Download the report Winning the Industry 4.0 Race.

Nine technologies are driving developmentsIndustry 4.0 will manifest itself through nine technologies, themes, and trends, states a report from The Boston Consulting Group.

Additive manufacturing3D printers are the dominant technology in additive manufacturing, where you can customise products, develop small productions, produce locally, or innovate without incurring significant costs.

Augmented reality

The virtual reality technology can be used to educate or guide employees in complex tasks such as machinery and motor maintenance.

Advanced robotics

Tomorrow’s robots are intelligent, and can collaborate both with each other and with people.

Big Data and analytics

Analysing data can provide knowledge and decision-making support in companies.

Cloud systems

The cloud can store huge volumes of data, but can also be used to host software, which is always fully upgraded.

Cyber security

Open and integrated networks and systems require technologies that protect companies’ production processes.

Horizontal/vertical supply chain integration

Data from production and products are integrated across the company to create a fully automated value chain extending from supplier to customer.

Industrial Internet of Things

In this trend, technology will become embedded in machines, systems and processes which are linked with each other via the internet.

Simulation

In future, simulation will also be used to test processes, even before the factory has been erected.

Source: DTU