Setting the stage for the fourth industrial revolution

The economies of scale and intelligence introduced by the interconnected industrial Internet promises to help manufacturers save money and streamline operations while satisfying consumer expectations.

 

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black,” Henry Ford famously once said. Ford was a master of mass production and automation, figuring out the best way to make automobiles quickly and cheaply. Now, however, we live in a different world. Industrial performance has always been tied to market forces, but never has the power of the consumer so dominated economic cycles as during the past two decades.  Amid increasing competition and scrutiny of corporate financial performance, the direct consequences are increased levels of consumer choice and shorter product lifecycles.

 

Today’s customers would never stand for Ford’s approach. Suppliers who followed it would lose ability to differentiate. Instead of forcing the consumer to change to fit what the manufacturer wants to sell, the manufacturing sector has changed to support consumerism. Initially, that meant shifting labor-intensive operations to low-cost regions to reduce production costs. As the economies of China and other labor centers continue to mature, however, the economic benefits of labor-intensive production are starting to decrease over time.

 

As a result, we expect to see a rebalancing of the global manufacturing cost base, already demonstrated by a wave of “onshoring” activity among many top OEMs. Add together  consumerism and onshoring, however, and quickly we begin to worry about our ability to maintain the consumer cycle in which users expect constant price decreases, increased options, and frequent product refreshes.  What does that mean for industry?  It means that manufacturers have to master an extremely complex product mix, supply chain, and production variability.

 

As a result, it is automation and not labor that must be the focus of Industry 4.0.  GE calls this the Industrial Internet, a production economy that takes the existing infrastructure of the Internet economy and integrates it with the established industrial infrastructure. The combination creates a template for highly optimized and intelligent manufacturing. The hardware components of this manufacturing template already exist, including robotics, automation, ERP software, server processing cababilities, network fabrics, and more. Currently, some of these components are designed to be connected to the network, but in order to fully realize the promise of this concept, all components need to be connected to the network.

 

Achieving this goal requires a number of different semiconductor devices, including:

Memory

  • Larger embedded density enables more complex execute-in-place software
  • Higher densities deliver on-die data logging and storage

Security

  • Boot-block protection and sector erase functionality support embedded security
  • Microcontroller-based encryption ensures safe communication

Connectivity

  • Microprocessors designed for multiple protocols enable interoperability
  • Multiport interfaces provide broad connectivity

Safety

  • Functional safety protects hardware and personnel in a decentralized system
  • Redundancy, reliability, quality, and endurance enhance performance

In this issue of Core & Code, we focus on what it will take to realize Industry 4.0. Learn about the technologies under development and the ways they’re being applied. The interconnected industrial Internet of Things promises to help manufacturers deliver their customers the steady stream of new products with increased options and decreased prices that they have come to expect.

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