Industrialization has come a long way since the invention of the steam engine that resulted in mechanization of cotton mills and the advent of motorized transportation. The latest wave of technological advancements in the industrial sector is termed Industry 4.0. While robotics and other processes marked the previous leap in manufacturing, the current iteration aims to take mass production and precision engineering to the next level.

One keyword that distinguishes Industry 4.0 from the previous version is automation. From deploying AI-powered robotics to designing systems that conduct self-diagnosis and maintenance, Industry 4.0 is all about minimizing human intervention for enhanced efficiency, unmatched accuracy, and cost effectiveness. 

Let’s look at some of the top trends that are expected to impact Industry 4.0 in a big way in 2021.

Toward Better Energy Efficiency

Going green and achieving energy efficiency have been the mantra in all spheres of our lives over the last couple of decades and lowering energy consumption in manufacturing is no different. As countries throughout the world look to move away from fossil fuels and toward greener and more sustainable energy sources, Industry 4.0 is expected to play a major role. Digital transformation in all areas of manufacturing – planning, design, and production will be the way forward.

Unleashing the Power of Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is taking over many aspects of how companies do business and optimizing the manufacturing processes is one area where IoT can make a huge difference. From manufacturing process automation and managing supply chain to inventory control and warehouse management, Industry 4.0 will be the new mantra in achieving better product quality whilst reducing production costs.

Broadening the 3D-Printing Horizon

Two key areas that will see further deployment of 3D printing in manufacturing will be precision parts for micro-machinery and prototyping. Industry 4.0 is expected to adopt 3D printing in several areas including these. Prototyping will witness major breakthroughs as manufacturers look to build prototypes that are much closer to the design phase as compared with traditional manufacturing. This will significantly drive down the cost of new product launches in addition to improving  go-to-market time. 

The Impact of 5G Connectivity

5G connectivity will be at the forefront of Industry 4.0 as several components of the next step in the manufacturing evolution will depend on high internet connectivity. With the advent of IoT, robotic manufacturing enabled by big data and artificial intelligence, access to very high bandwidth will be crucial. With several telecom companies completing their testing process, 2021 looks all set to become the year when Industry 4.0 will truly spread its wings and achieve its true potential that it promises. 

Enabling Remote Work in Manufacturing

This is one aspect of Industry 4.0 that was considered impossible in the manufacturing sector. However, newer tools and technology mean that more team members such as the product design will be able to connect to the tools from remote locations. This streamlines the manufacturing process as members across several teams can collaborate to come up with products that match the exact needs of the market. 

Cloud Infrastructure for Optimized Production

Although Cloud Infrastructure has been around for several years, some of the key developments in areas such as network security will pave the way for full utilization of most of the features. Real time data analysis using big data techniques, product optimization for better supply chain management, and SKU tracking are some of the focus areas where Cloud Infrastructure is expected to contribute towards Industry 4.0

Product Design and Technology

Technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will play a major role in understanding the market requirements. Armed with actionable data, product designers will be able to make changes to features, shapes, and style of the product before prototyping. This will significantly reduce the resources for new product design as well as improvements to existing products. 

Smart Maintenance: Monitor, Diagnose, and Fix 

Considered by many as the most exciting aspect of Industry 4.0, smart maintenance will completely change the way machines are monitored, diagnosed, and fixed as a part of routine maintenance. Aided by the Internet of Things, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence, machines can monitor themselves using hi-end sensors and actuators. The information thus collected is sent to a central Cloud Server. It will then either take necessary actions or notify maintenance engineers for immediate action. The system can also order replacement parts and other consumables such as lubrication oil all this while the machine is not in use ensuring minimal downtime.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Manufacturing

As the demand of the market constantly evolves, the duration of time between two iterations of a product is shortening at a break-neck speed. Consumers are looking for major improvements resulting in almost a new product design in many cases. All these warrant for quicker response times in reacting to the market dynamics. And manufacturing companies are investing in newer technologies to stay ahead of the competition. 

The advent of AI and Machine Learning means that companies are now able to install machine tools that learn the processes quicker than their human counterparts. This not  reduces the costs of starting a new process. And reduce the time to take a new product to the market. What’s more, AI-powered machines enable the companies to scale much faster based on market demands. All these make AI and Machine Learning two of the most crucial components of Industry 4.0

Data-Driven Manufacturing

Consumers are connected to the digital experiences and they are able to interact with businesses on-the-go. As companies gather more data about consumer behavior and the way consumers use and feel the products, manufacturers have more and better insight than ever. This trove of data enables manufacturers to design, develop, and manufacture products that exactly fit the needs of their customers. This results in improved bottom lines and reduced costs of new product design.