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Industry 4.0: what can be expected?

Thierry Rayna
Thierry Rayna
Researcher at the CNRS i³-CRG* laboratory and Professor at École Polytechnique (IP Paris)
Nicolas Jaunet
Nicolas Jaunet
Head of Fabrication Engineering and Industry 4.0 at Michelin
Key takeaways
  • The introduction of new technologies in factories is leading to the emergence of the concept of Factory 4.0.
  • This fourth industrial revolution is dematerialising production management and making it possible for almost anyone to become a manufacturer.
  • In concrete terms, in factories, the transformation involves automation, robotisation and the widespread use of real-time data.
  • Industry 4.0 frees up time to concentrate on less time-consuming tasks and design new industrial models.
  • The challenge is how to ensure that operators retain their technical skills while delegating them to machines.

After the rev­o­lu­tion in mechan­i­cal pro­duc­tion dri­ven by the steam engine in 1765, fol­lowed by mass pro­duc­tion dri­ven by elec­tric­i­ty and oil a cen­tu­ry lat­er, and final­ly auto­mat­ed pro­duc­tion sup­port­ed by elec­tron­ics and com­put­er tech­nolo­gies in the 1970s, it is the intro­duc­tion of new tech­nolo­gies into fac­to­ries that is now dri­ving the emer­gence of the “indus­try 4.0″ con­cept. A fac­to­ry of the future, but one that did­n’t emerge out of thin air,” points out Thier­ry Ray­na, a pro­fes­sor at École Poly­tech­nique (IP Paris), direc­tor of the Tech4Change chair. “Numer­i­cal­ly con­trolled machines date back to the 1980s, and exist­ing pro­duc­tion struc­tures have a force of iner­tia that should not be underestimated.”

Let’s face it, the fac­to­ries of the future are not going to replace ‘ordi­nary’ fac­to­ries with a wave of a mag­ic wand. Nev­er­the­less, by mak­ing dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion a real­i­ty, they are bring­ing about real upheaval…

Evolution or revolution?

Fac­to­ry 4.0 can take sev­er­al forms: a “clas­sic” phys­i­cal loca­tion or a more dif­fuse net­work of pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing units based on dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. These tech­nolo­gies enable machines, sys­tems, prod­ucts, and peo­ple to be per­ma­nent­ly interconnected.

“This fourth indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion is dema­te­ri­al­is­ing the man­age­ment of pro­duc­tion, and in par­tic­u­lar enabling indi­vid­u­als to become man­u­fac­tur­ers,” empha­sis­es Thier­ry Ray­na. A per­son can imag­ine an object, iden­ti­fy a mar­ket, cre­ate a 3D print­ed pro­to­type to test it, then find a ser­vice provider to man­u­fac­ture it, and, with lit­tle or no invest­ment, put the prod­uct on sale online.

“So, evo­lu­tion or rev­o­lu­tion? For every new dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, there are always two waves,” says Thier­ry Ray­na.  “The first is com­pa­nies doing the same thing as before but using these new tech­nolo­gies. The sec­ond wave is dri­ven by indi­vid­u­als, entre­pre­neurs, who seize on these tech­nolo­gies to invent rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent uses.” For exam­ple, the first ver­sion of the Web at the end of the 90s was noth­ing very orig­i­nal, just a way for man­u­fac­tur­ers to offer their cat­a­logues online rather than in print­ed form.  “But when peo­ple took to the web to invent col­lab­o­ra­tive ency­clopae­dias and social net­works, we could talk about a rev­o­lu­tion.”

And what about in the factory?

“At Miche­lin, the imple­men­ta­tion of Engi­neer­ing 4.0 is already well advanced. Six years ago, we car­ried out an ini­tial review of exist­ing 4.0 tech­nolo­gies and met with man­u­fac­tur­ers in Europe, the Unit­ed States and Asia whose pro­duc­tion units were already oper­at­ing in 4.0 mode,” explains Nico­las Jaunet, head of engi­neer­ing at the Miche­lin Group. “We found high­ly moti­vat­ed peo­ple whose jobs and day-to-day work had real­ly been trans­formed and had become more attrac­tive. What’s more, these indus­tries were dou­bling their annu­al per­for­mance com­pared with oth­ers in the same sec­tor who had­n’t yet tak­en the plunge.”

To imple­ment 4.0 tech­nolo­gies, it was first nec­es­sary to phys­i­cal­ly con­nect machines to data stor­age areas, before using this data to gen­er­ate appli­ca­tion cas­es to improve the com­pa­ny’s per­for­mance. The first stage of the trans­for­ma­tion involves the automa­tion of process­es, the use of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and col­lab­o­ra­tive robots, and the use of autonomous vehi­cles to trans­port parts and mate­ri­als with­in the fac­to­ry. In con­crete terms, this means that all the tyres that used to be checked man­u­al­ly by oper­a­tors now come under the vision radar of an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence sys­tem, free­ing up the oper­a­tor’s time to focus on more qual­i­ta­tive sorting.

The sec­ond aspect is the use of data. Oper­a­tors now have real-time access to data and to the per­for­mance of machines, work­shops, and plants. Based on this data, cer­tain AI sys­tems can be used, for exam­ple, to per­form pre­dic­tive main­te­nance on cer­tain bak­ing press­es, to antic­i­pate break­downs or even guide peo­ple to iden­ti­fy the ori­gin of a break­down on a machine. At Group lev­el, the pro­duc­tion units of var­i­ous plants have gen­er­at­ed appli­ca­tion cas­es, enabling new process­es to be test­ed in real time at ‘dig­i­tal leader’ plants before being rolled out to oth­er Group sites. 70 appli­ca­tion cas­es have already been deployed 8,000 times across all the Group’s plants.

Is this the end of (human) work?

“What effect will these devel­op­ments have on human work? Indus­try 4.0 will take time to roll out, which gives us plen­ty of time to sup­port our employ­ees as they change their jobs, or even take on new func­tions,” says Nico­las Jaunet. “What’s more, if the hard work is done by the machine, the work­ing con­di­tions are more sat­is­fac­to­ry for the employ­ees.” The exper­tise of these oper­a­tors is set to evolve. For exam­ple, with the new elec­tric cars, we need to design high-tech mate­ri­als (rub­ber) and tyres that can with­stand much heav­ier vehi­cles. Fac­to­ry 4.0 is thus becom­ing a real lever for trans­form­ing the tyre industry.

For his part, Thier­ry Ray­na believes that the more we digi­tise, the more valu­able human labour becomes, forc­ing staff to con­cen­trate on impor­tant tasks. On the oth­er hand, care must be tak­en not to lose exper­tise when work is entrust­ed to robots. “For exam­ple, in the field of weld­ing, while the man­u­fac­ture of the first parts requires real exper­tise, the pro­duc­tion of the 1,000 or 10,000 oth­ers that fol­low can become tru­ly tedious and bor­ing. But how can we entrust this task to robots with­out the mas­ter welder los­ing his skills? That’s the chal­lenge posed by these new technologies… “

Marina Julienne

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