The industrial revolution with a version number
The fourth industrial revolution is not some steampunk sci-fi world shrouded in a purple cloud but rather the literal reality of our current day-to-day lives. Manufacturing companies now have a tangible to modernise their processes with digitalisation tools – particularly as developments of this nature yield direct competitive advantages practically from the get-go. And as we all know: whoever stays out misses out.
Although, at first, the concept of industrial digitalisation might remind most people of automated production lines, smart sensors, and precision robot arms, the software technology behind the hardware is just as essential as the physical devices it controls. The essence of a smart factory is that the connection between the manufacturing devices in the factory and the new IT developments leads to innovations much greater than the sum of their parts. Industry 4.0 offers opportunities we didn’t dare dream of a decade ago – yet we couldn’t exist without them in the near future.
One of the most important keywords of Industry 4.0 is automation. This might not sound shocking initially, as theoretically, the previous third industrial revolution was also about computer-controlled production lines with programmable memories. However, there have been quite a few advancements in the world of computing since the 70s, and these non-negligible developments have justified opening a new chapter in the book of industrial history. Manufacturing devices that were previously primarily controlled with separate, local computers and control devices now operate connected to a network – and the efficiency of the resulting cyber-physical systems is exponentially increasing compared to the previous generation.
Production line as a network device
Therefore, the manufacturing process has progressed to the next level thanks to the appearance of network technology: not only are the individual devices and production lines programmable, but the same is also true of the entire site as well – from warehouses to manufacturing plants to the sales preparations for the final products. All of this opens up endless possibilities – thanks to the software monitoring of various industrial devices, the function of the machines can be optimised, making the entire production process more organised, economical and effective. Let’s look at a few examples of developments available through software-based solutions.
When implementing automation, why not do so in the software world as well?! As laymen, we might think that writing program code cannot be done with automation – but this isn’t exactly true anymore. Naturally, no single development platform will come up with the logic behind the function of an application. Still, if development engineers create the fundamental structure, the manufacturing can often be performed by the framework system. Such low-code platforms include Siemens’ Mendix, whose special partner is BlackBelt in the Central European region. Thanks to Mendix, the speed of development can be radically accelerated and based on this technology, industrial companies can make more outstanding advancements in the field of digitalisation.
Rapid development, rapid results
I promised to list specific examples, so let’s look at the first one! In cooperation with Siemens at BlackBelt, we created an industrial application with an iterative development of only a few weeks, which can monitor the life cycles of thousands of components installed in production lines. The maintenance of complex industrial equipment is a critical task for all manufacturing companies as the entire production line can shut down due to components malfunction – nothing is more expensive than lost capacities. Another non-negligible factor is determining which of the thousands of installed components require maintenance at various times, as the premature replacement of the multiple elements entails an unnecessary waste of money, while overly long operational time can run the risk of sudden shutdowns.
The Vitality application developed in a total of six months is capable of measuring and monitoring the components’ lifecycle; based on this, we can forecast the appropriate time for their replacement or repair. The system can even provide an overview of the foreseeable maintenance costs of the equipment – which makes it something that can be planned and scheduled. Similarly, the procurement of the necessary parts can also be optimised as in possession of reliable data, the company doesn’t have to accumulate reserves and worry that production might be shut down for weeks until an indispensable component is received. Therefore, Vitality is a classic example of a well-functioning smart factory solution: through the collection, analysis and monitoring of available data, it makes the operation of factories more organised and efficient.
My other example of an innovative software solution supporting industrial digitalisation is the IoT platform known as DataMagnet, which, thanks to rapid developments, was created in only eight weeks. What sets DataMagnet apart is that factories can use it to compile their own customised IoT solutions. The platform is based on mobile network technology – LoRa WAN infrastructure – with cheap and fast installation options, which also has the advantage that it has no licensing obligation in Hungary, therefore it can be independently installed and operated by factories at low costs. LoRa provides outdoor mobile network services within a 15-kilometre radius, while its indoor coverage reaches as deep as two storeys underground. The IoT-system based on it can receive, aggregate and analyse the data from any wireless sensor, thus providing the company with real-time information on, amongst other things, the electrical power consumption of the manufacturing equipment, the factory’s CO2 emissions, the temperature of the machines, or anything else that is measurable with commercially available sensors.
DataMagnet and Vitality are both fine examples of the stunning, previously unimaginable increase in efficiency that digitalisation can provide for the industry. Thanks to these developments, production can be better planned and made more cost-efficient – moreover, this can be achieved at significantly lower costs compared to the modernisation of production lines. As stated previously: the digital industrial revolution is now a part of our day-to-day reality – yet we are just beginning to harness the opportunities it has to offer.
The industrial revolution with a version number
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