The fourth industrial revolution – often called Industry 4.0 – has caused an evolution in technologies which blends the digital, physical, and biological worlds and impacts just about everything.
We’ve already witnessed the impact it has had on e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retail, transportation and logistics. As customers of these industries have become more mobile and demand personalized, demanding and receiving near instantaneous services, companies are either embracing what Industry 4.0 offers, or becoming relics of the past.
With technology evolving at such a rapid pace, companies will not look to create solutions from square one; rather, they will look to partner with some of the brightest minds – universities, ventures and incubators – to create an open innovation model, building upon already-proven technologies.
At its core, Industry 4.0 is about the transformation of the supply chain. At Honeywell, we’ve been working within multiple points of this value stream – from the distribution center to the retail showroom – to develop new technologies that solve unique problems.
We’re finding the key to winning in this revolution is software. Without software, physical devices don’t add much value. It’s the combination of intelligence, computing capacity and software that bring products to life – making the idea of a connected distribution center a reality.
More than 50 percent of our engineers are software engineers. We are building software that is rapidly moving Honeywell forward into new technology spaces, helping to serve our customers. Based on talking to partners and customers about their future needs, I see four main building blocks of the fourth industrial revolution.
The cloud and cybersecurity. A cloud software platform is key in shifting connected products into the future. The platform is going to be a critical foundation to enable new capabilities. It is vital to have these new emerging platforms and infrastructure drive the transformation. Machine data and functionality will increasingly be deployed to the cloud, enabling more data-driven services. More cloud deployment will increase the need for secure, reliable communications as well as sophisticated identity and access management of machines and users.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT). I’ve mentioned before that software is going to be a critical part of the evolution. We have seen the software evolution – or I would call it an IoT evolution – in three different phases. About 10 years ago, it was all about IoT devices getting connected to software on the cloud platform. It was one-dimensional connectivity. A few years later it was all about the physical and digital loop.
Now, we’re seeing all devices become intelligent and autonomous. In this shift, we need to be ready to inherit new emerging technologies, insert it into products and differentiate the offerings. Field devices will be able to communicate and interact with one another, using more centralized controllers as necessary.
Machine learning and big data. There are two evolutionary steps to machine learning in Industry 4.0. The first step was the programmable logic controller (PLC)-based robotic process, where software is hard-coded to automate a specific repetitive task (for example a robot arm cutting metal in a CNC machine). The next generation of machine learning deals with real-time data processing. In this generation, for example, systems can watch and manage within nanoseconds the manipulation of arms to pick up boxes. The collection and comprehensive evaluation of data from many different sources is exploding from evolution to revolution and is creating a foundation to further develop machine-learning algorithms.
Autonomous systems. E-commerce fulfillment centers – driven by a rapid growth of online shopping – are ripe for the use of robotics. We will see the price of robots continue to fall and provide more value by having a greater range of capabilities than those used in manufacturing today. We recently teamed with a leading research university to develop next-generation artificial intelligence and robotics technologies for the distribution center. Robotics can be an effective solution to make large, integrated distribution centers more efficient.
These building blocks are improving efficiency throughout the supply chain. The role of a solutions provider is to consider how these industries operate and their supply chain works, and provide them integrated systems to ultimately increase the bottom line.
We’re currently living through Industry 4.0 – and with how quickly things are evolving, Industry 5.0 is right around the corner. As products are becoming more connected, we’re creating safety solutions and efficiencies throughout the supply chain that wouldn’t have been thought of a decade ago. Software will be the key catalyst in the advancements of everything we do.
Paul Crimm is the Chief Engineer at Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions.