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EACC Behind the Scenes - October 2019

Industry 4.0 training at Festo
Andreas Brockmann, Head of Technical Training and Education at Festo Didactic in Mason, invited me to participate in its “Introduction to Industry 4.0” course at the end of September.  It was a great opportunity to gain some new and deeper insight into the challenges (and opportunities) that the fourth industrial revolution poses not just for manufacturers but for every aspect of society.

The course provides an excellent overview of how the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0 is a marketing term invented by the German government) is transforming everything from what and how children are taught in schools, to how goods are produced, distributed and sold, even to how wars are fought.  Industry 4.0 revolves around Cyber-Physical Systems where sensors, data, machines and humans come together to achieve goals such as increasing efficiency, flexibility, resilience and versatility while reducing costs and saving resources.  

Of course the focus is on Industry 4.0 and manufacturing and how firms can implement Industry 4.0 in their operations – a ‘bottom-up’ approach, and a ‘top-down’ approach.  The two approaches are not mutually exclusive and indeed could be pursued simultaneously.

Many firms already have elements of the ‘bottom-up’ approach integrated into their operations: if you have systematic plans to reduce waste, to track and increase added value, and to analyze your value streams, you’re part of the revolution.  As those systems are digitized and as those datasets are integrated with input from your front line workers to generate improvements in everything from changing the layout of a workstation to the introduction of autonomous or collaborative robots, you are creating the cyber-physical systems that characterize Industry 4.0.

The ‘top-down’ approach may utilize a toolkit (such as the one created by the Association of German Machine and Plant Builders – VMDA in German – in 2015) which provides a methodical approach to identify Industry 4.0 applications for products and production.  So a company can ask how it might integrate sensors and/or connectivity into its products to add value, or build new business models around a product.  Or a firm might introduce flexible production systems, augmented/assisted reality systems, or fully-networked IT solutions across the entire enterprise.

The course has already helped me have more intelligent conversations with our members and others about their efforts to grapple with Industry 4.0.  It’s not enough to know the vocabulary; one has to have a framework and a grasp of the philosophy behind this ongoing upheaval to avoid being overcome by it.

My thanks to Andreas and Festo Didactic for inviting me, and special thanks to Cristóbal Jimenez, who was a great instructor.  His deep and broad experience made the class fascinating and real.

-Todd Schwartz
 Executive Director

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