Have you ever assembled a flat-packed piece of furniture—let’s say a desk—and took a step back to marvel at your ingenuity, ready to pat yourself on the back, only to realize that a panel was facing the wrong way? Or better yet, looked down at the bag of hardware and asked yourself why you have extra parts? Of course you have. Why? Because you are human, and mistakes happen. As humans, we are born with emotions, and our minds wander; we have good days and bad days. All of this can distract us from our work.
The reasons for messing up are limitless: maybe the kids were screaming, or the dog used the instructions as a chew toy. Regardless of the reasons, something went wrong.
Manufacturers deal with these types of problems daily—hopefully, no kids or dogs are involved—but on a much grander scale. One missed step, a single overlooked detail, or a bad batch of outsourced ingredients can cost a company millions of dollars and wipe out its trusted brand. Think of how many times we hear about car recalls or food being pulled from grocery shelves. These recalls can lead to lawsuits and bankruptcies and set brand loyalty back decades.
One avoidable cause is human error. So what’s the fix? Let’s go back and imagine building that same desk, but this time, your mini home assembly plant was equipped with some Industry 4.0 technology. The hammer, the screwdriver, and even some of the parts had built-in sensors that would alert you to any errors or steps missed during the building process. And amazingly, the tools and parts were intelligent enough to correct the mistakes while you were building the desk, not afterwards. This would be much better than step-by-step online videos. Although Industry 4.0 at home isn’t quite here yet, it’s here for manufacturers.
A considerable part of Industry 4.0 is the integration of smart application using big data and the Industrial Internet of Things. New manufacturing systems have real-time communication gateways built into the equipment. The benefits of having access to play-by-play data transfers between applications and products mean human operators, engineers, and systems planners can analyze system performance and critical product information during the production process rather than after. The results aim to improve efficiency, quality, safety, and, ultimately, the bottom line. Despite the belief that robots and computers will eliminate certain jobs—which is still debatable—we know that Industry 4.0 is poised to improve the products we consume and contribute to a workplace that benefits everyone.
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