What will be the risks and challenges in implementing a Smart Factory, a structure capable of adapting autonomously to market needs, to the production volumes variations and to the mass personalization?
The technological evolution within our production systems, also known as Industry 4.0, will lead to a new way of producing goods, more automated and at the same time more flexible. Furthermore, the human element will be central: the transformation process will be entrusted to technology, while operators will play a different role, controlling and maintaining the production system.
Such a system will imply a series of risks and challenges: in this post we will briefly describe them.
The implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies implies the use of many IT systems integrated by different companies. Indeed, the companies IT portfolio is constantly growing. Likewise, sensors and data transmission systems often used protocols defined by the parent company. However, these systems must be able to interface with each other and exchange data seamlessy. This is still a difficult and time-consuming task today. The standardization of protocols could greatly simplify this activity, allowing more and more developers to work together efficiently and therefore exploit the full economic potential of Industry 4.0.
One of the biggest risks inside a Smart Factory is linked to the cyber-security issue: indeed, in recent years cyber attacks against companies and individuals have steadily increased. Because of the lack of adequate data protection and security, cyber attacks have encountered enormous financial damage: the production systems controlled on the cybernetic systems have therefore created the need for new security requirements.
Availability of an IT infrastructure installed
Another challenge in Industry 4.0 is the availability of an IT infrastructure. The increased use of software and networked devices increases the dependence of companies on a powerful, scalable and always available IT infrastructure. This implies the availability of an adequate exchange, archiving and data processing system.
Availability of a reliable and fast internet connection
An equally important problem is the availability of a reliable and fast Internet connection: in the era of Industry 4.0 and digitization the state of “always connected” is an absolute must. A complete use of IT systems requires a better and higher quality data exchange facility. In order to implement low latency, high reliability, high quality and a complete broadband network, improve communication networks.
Complexity of Systems
One of the main problems concerns the growing complexity within a Smart Factory. Because of the technological development of the last decades, the complexity of products and systems has already grown exponentially: consequently, the complexity of the production processes is also increasing considerably.
The company organization plays a fundamental role: management must define a strategy and a well-structured plan for digitization and demonstrate an understanding of the IT system and processes. In addition, organizational models must be found to allow a high level of cooperation and communication between all professionals. In order for employees to be prepared for new activities, the company must take an active role in managing change. Lifelong learning, changes in the organization of work, the composition of working groups and knowledge management will play a very important role in the future.
Unwillingness to invest can be one of the main risks. In fact, despite this talk, investments in Industry 4.0 are currently still quite low. One of the problems lies in the lack of transparency of the added value that these technologies will bring in the short but especially in the medium-long term. This implies that the metalworking industries already assessed which requirements meet the products in the future.
Digitization will replace labor with low added value linked to production, and this is to be considered a side effect due to the introduction of automation in industrial processes. However, history teaches us that it is not the first time that this has happened:
- with the agrarian revolution, animals replaced man in heavy jobs;
- the same can be said of steam-powered machines following the first industrial revolution;
- Offer even more accentuated with robotics with the third industrial revolution.
It is very likely that this will also happen with 4.0 technologies. Therefore, one of the fundamental topics will be the training of workers. The needs of production workers regarding their qualification will change, and subjects such as mathematics and computer science must necessarily be re-evaluated in order to meet the high demand in the economic system, as well as subjects in the world of engineering such as mechatronics and automation technology. Internal training and continuous training ensuring that production workers are all at the cutting edge of technology.
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