Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) are buzzwords that are often used interchangeably, but while there are strong correlations, they are not the same. Having a clear understanding of the two terms is essential as manufacturing processes adopt a data-driven approach to produce actionable insights. By Scott Ho.

The Internet of Things (IoT) includes the integration of digital sensors and networking technologies to devices and systems we use every day in the analogue world. The most famous consumer examples include smartphones, smartwatches, smart thermostats, smart speakers and so on. Traditional versions of these devices have no internet connectivity; however, as IoT has developed they have become connected.

IoT devices have been a big part of our lives for over a decade and continue to grow in influence. In fact according to Transforma Insights, at the end of 2019 there were 7.6bn active IoT devices, a figure which will grow to 24.1bn in 2030.

Beyond consumer households, IoT has an application for commercial use. Prominent examples where IoT devices come into play will be temperature control systems across buildings, trucks and so on. A simple use of IoT devices for commercial purposes is using temperature sensors in trucks transporting perishable goods. Throughout the truck’s journey, the temperature can be monitored all the way through; and if it begins to rise or fall, necessary actions can be taken to ensure the goods do not perish—thus, saving the organisation money and products.

On the other hand, Industry 4.0 refers to data exchange and automation in the process of manufacturing. The Boston Consulting Group defines Industry 4.0 by identifying nine technologies:

  1. Autonomous robots.
  2. Simulation.
  3. Horizontal and vertical system integration.
  4. Industrial Internet of Things.
  5. Cybersecurity.
  6. The Cloud.
  7. Additive manufacturing.
  8. Data and analytics.
  9. Augmented Reality.

Importantly, these technologies are used in conjunction to establish a “smart factory”, whereby machines, systems and humans communicate with each other to co-ordinate and monitor progress along the assembly line.

The result is lowering costs while enabling the ability to rapidly design, modify, create and customise things in the real world. This process also considers and reacts to changes in consumer preferences, demand, supply chains and technologies.

Bringing the two together

The misinterpretation of Industry 4.0 as IoT comes from the fact that both terms stem from the notion that networked devices provide sensor data and are digitally controlled.

Industry 4.0 and IoT do overlap when it comes to digital manufacturing. Both highlight the use of devices, robots, simulations and tools with sensors that produce data.

With that in mind, manufacturers are not isolated, as each manufacturer has its own supply chain and unique set of tools, data, processes and network. Unifying these networks into a broader IoT hub gives supply chains the ability to seamlessly pivot to the changes within the market. This ability addresses longstanding manufacturing issues, including tracing quality issues down a supply chain.

However, this ability only comes from linking together previously independent devices and systems and security becomes the key challenge for manufacturers.

Increasing use of smart devices requires more accurate tracking of breaches and security violations, with the speed at which this is growing exacerbating the challenge. The industry response to this aspect of the problem is to combine new technologies with standard IT technologies like network security and encryption.

Additionally, a lack of universal industry standards compounds the challenge for IoT and Industry 4.0. Owning multiple smart devices from different brands means that each device will record data in their own format and with their own protocol. Therefore, integrating them into an automated factory will be costly, time-intensive and difficult.

Manufacturing giants including Bosch, the Eclipse Foundation and others have been designing standard communication protocols and architecture like OPC, UA, MQTT and PPMP. These protocols aim to assist smart devices including those on the factory floor using a common architecture to communicate and provide common data formats. Solving the problem of condensing multiple formats into one data model does mean more difficulty for manufacturers, to negotiate and decide which architecture should be universal.

There are additional challenges for Industry 4.0 and IoT, including talent development, IT integration and in some instances, technology immaturity. However, in overcoming these challenges there will be hybrid transitions with older methods and new technologies coming together.

The final consideration

The enormous quantities of data generated from these principles offer the opportunity to analyse big data. Decision-making can be supported by data-driven insights to create a competitive advantage.

Search functionality is the foundation of big data and will have a role to play in quickly analysing and understanding the data efficiently and effectively. However, presenting the relevant information will require talent, to interpret the data and glean insights that will assist with the task at hand. Tracking, organising, understanding and finding these components in context will be vital to ensure Industry 4.0 and IoT effectiveness.

In an anecdotal sense, if smart devices are the fingers, arms and limbs, IoT devices are the nervous system, search is the brain, and Industry 4.0 makes everything work together.

Scott Ho is Vice-President – Asia Pacific Japan at Lucidworks.