While manufacturing makes strides toward Industry 4.0, the process industry still lags. But the latest technological revolution can make tasks in the process industry more efficient. The heart of this revolution is data, which also lies at the core of the process industry. Rather than fearing the latest advances, companies should embrace them.
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 uses technology to connect parts of the process that once relied on human communications, enabling adopters to collect, analyze and use data instantly. This industrial revolution also encompasses automation and mixed reality. For example, Canadian companies invested an average of $250,000 to digitize a small to a medium manufacturing facility. This amount should be similar for process industries.
The automation could reduce the amount of downtime from broken machinery. Industry 4.0 technology predicts when equipment requires maintenance before it breaks down. Additionally, it's more flexible to change product production quickly, which is especially helpful in today's process industry. Personalized medicine and foods reduce overall volumes of production while increasing the number of products a company can churn out.
Linking employees with data
Though automation is a component of Industry 4.0, the process industry still requires humans. Employees use gathered data to make decisions on maintenance. Also, human workers’ experience with the equipment generates the algorithms the software and sensors use to schedule maintenance and repairs before unplanned outages. Employees can access information virtually about equipment by a database of “digital twins,” a term coined by Dr. Nico Zobel, a researcher with Fraunhofer IFF.
Employees can also safely learn to operate new equipment or learn new skills through virtual reality. Virtual reality also allows plants to verify operations before they open. BASF and Sinopec Engineering both used virtual 3D software to create an image of the plant operators could see before construction finished, which allowed them to make changes before installing any equipment.
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