I attended a technical session on Industry 4.0 at SMTAI in Rosemont, IL, in September. I admit to not knowing much about it, so I found the topic fascinating. Industry 4.0 begs the question as to what were Industry 1.0 to 3.0 are (were?) The image below explains the progression, Industry 1.0 was mechanization with water and steam power, Industry 2.0 is mass production with the assembly line using electricity. Industry 3.0 adds computers and automation. Whereas Industry 4.0 is the age of cyber physical systems, the internet of things, cloud computing, and cognitive computing.
Industries 1.0 to 4.0. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industry_4.0#/media/File:Industry_4.0.png
One could imagine an Industry 4.0 (I4.0) workplace something like the following in an electronic assembly factory. A customer places an order in the cloud. It is received by the factory and after some analysis performed by a “Watson”-type AI, the order is accepted. The I4.0 system then goes to work scheduling the job and ordering the correct components, PWBs and hardware. It designs the stencil from a Gerber file and so on and so on. There is little human interaction and the factory runs at about a 95% uptime and is profoundly efficient and profitable.
As with self-driving cars, I am a bit of a skeptic of I4.0. To be sure there may be a few factories that exhibit some of the Industry 4.0 technology, but I don’t see this major technological shift becoming mainstream for a generation or so.
One of the reasons is that I don’t think most factories today are even at Industry 3.0 (I3.0), they are more like Industry 2.5 (or less?). Many colleagues that I chat with about these types of things, and I have toured more than 100 factories world-wide and still marvel at how inefficient they are. I was once asked to give an executive, new to our industry, a tour of an electronics assembly facility. The facility that graciously offered to let us tour had six assembly lines. In the 90 minutes we were there, not one line was running. The reasons were typical: for line 1 the team could not find the right stencil, line 2 needed a reel of components that no one could locate, line 3 had an equipment malfunction, etc., etc. These types of experiences are discussed in The Adventures of Patty and the Professor.
Another example of electronics assembly being a bit short of I3.0 was demonstrated by a student project that was recently commissioned to measure uptime on a simple assembly line. The line consisted of a stencil printer, component placement machines, and a reflow oven. The engineers that worked for the company that sold the assembly line were confident that the students would have no difficulty measuring uptime by sampling signals from the computers controlling each piece of equipment. After hundreds of hours of work by the engineers and the students, it was concluded that it was not possible to measure line uptime without adding some type of sensors on the assembly line to detect the flow of the PWBs. Industry 3.0 indeed!
At SMTAI I was asked to participate on a two-person panel on the topic, Will Virtual Reality Soon be Used in Electronic Assembly? Readers will likely guess that I was the skeptic. Watch the video and see what you think.
As with self-driving autos, I think Industry 4.0 is a great idea and encourage the many people working on it, but I believe it will be quite a while before it arrives in any meaningful way to typical factories. In the meantime, let’s all work to ensure that the factories we currently operate approach Industry 3.0 are run efficiently with high uptimes.