As We Enter the “Fourth Stage of Industrial Production,” What Do You Need to Know?

Manufacturing Systems are Getting Smarter, and the Possibilities Are Endless

April 05, 2018

It is an exciting yet somewhat nerve-wracking time to be in manufacturing as we enter the “Fourth Stage of Industrial Production.” The first three industrial revolutions were the results of the steam engine, then mass production and then the emergence of computing technology.

This fourth revolution is about the growing ability to tightly integrate the physical world with a digital one. Smart manufacturing systems will be at the center of this revolution, and they’re poised to unlock new levels of efficiency, so it’s important to understand what they are, what they do and how they are going to change the manufacturing landscape in the coming years.

What Are Smart Manufacturing Systems?    

Cyber-physical systems (CPS) coupled with big data analytics are already making manufacturing workflows “smarter” and therefore capable of achieving performance levels which previously would not have been possible. Smart manufacturing systems are information-centric systems, and the acquisition and analysis of data and the real-time use of the information provided are fundamental to its success. 

Smart manufacturing systems are being born, and although cyber security concerns may slow the pace, no one wants to be left too far behind!

What Enables Smart Manufacturing Systems? 

CPS, the internet of things, big data analytics, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are all critical elements of smart manufacturing systems.

Ultimately, the development of standards for how these systems should be integrated and how data and information should flow throughout a manufacturing enterprise will also be critical. These standards are currently under development and encompass integration standards within and across the three manufacturing lifecycle dimensions of product, manufacturing process and business.

What Is an Example of a Smart Manufacturing System?

Sensors and big data analytics enable recognition and assessment of an upcoming equipment failure to allow timely adjustments to the order management process and the manufacturing schedule. This maximizes order fulfillment, while also accommodating the need to take maintenance action in the necessary time frame to correct for the problem.

Simultaneously, sensors are monitoring the progress of the manufacturing processes (chemical reactions, separation processes, size-reduction processes, etc.) and all internal and external factors which impact it or potentially impact it. By doing this, the system ensures control actions are taken at the perfect time, by the most efficient and effective means, to achieve all critical performance metrics, including quality, cost, delivery, environment and safety. Responses could be automated or they could be taken by operators who are given real-time response guidance, possibly via augmented reality.

While these are the examples that currently come to mind, the future holds ever-increasing levels of integration and customized, faster responses to changing conditions, in order to optimize performance.

How Will Smart Manufacturing Systems Impact the Manufacturing of the Future?

Manufacturers will be able to produce smaller batches of more customized products, at lower costs, with far less waste and with much shorter lead times. 

The design and development of smart manufacturing systems will reshape manufacturing as much as the steam engine, mass-production systems and the advent of computing technology have done in the previous revolutions.

Given the time span between the third and the fourth revolutions, however, it boggles the mind to think what is next and how soon that will be here. Hold on for the ride and enjoy — it’s going to be exciting!


To learn more about how real-time insight into your production processes can improve your bottom line, download our on-demand webinar with ARC Advisory Group "The Connected Plant: Transforming Data into Value."

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