Industry 4.0; Smart Connected Factories for Smart Manufacturing
The concept of “Smart Factory” is becoming a reality for manufacturers. A wide range of ideas and innovations that loosely fall under “Industry 4.0” are already started contributing to factory operations. Let’s take a closer look at the changing landscape in the manufacturing industry.

It all started when water and steam-powered machines were introduced to the manufacturing processes in the late 18th century; this resulted in the gradual transition from hand production methods to mechanized manufacturing processes. The second era of industry came with the standardization and division of labor that enabled mass production in the early 20th century, which followed the introduction of computers to the shop.

Now, in the first quarter of the 21st century, we are witnessing the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) where computer systems and manufacturing process automation come together in an entirely new way.

The changing world of manufacturing

Industry 4.0 the fourth industrial revolution, offers a 'smart factory,' where machines are equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and can learn and control the production process with little input from humans. Industry 4.0 will reduce overall headcount while sustaining costs and enabling efficient industrial production.

The idea of Industry 4.0 was introduced by the German Government in 2011 at Hannover Messe, one of the world's largest trade fairs. It was part of the new manufacturing strategy that integrates the online world and the world of industrial production. Simply put, Industry 4.0 is the application of the Internet of Things (IoT) in industrial processes; where physical objects such as machines, tools, workpieces, and other equipment get the ability to communicate with each other.

Goals of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 aims a shift from repetitive jobs in assembly lines to more flexible production setups. By facilitating the vision of “Smart Factory,” the fourth industrial revolution will make planning, controlling, and execution dynamic.

Industry 4.0 will affect every activity that creates value for customers; this includes IT infrastructure, operational processes, planning, and controlling. In addition to these performance levels, other areas such as business culture, organizational structure, and strategic targets will also change. That means the goals of Industry 4.0 are strategic, organizational, and processes.

Strategic goals include shortening time to market (TTM), quicker response to new customer demands, and meeting volatile customer demands. Improved work-life balance for increased quality of work, automation of routine tasks, and better work environment through innovative man-machine-interaction are key organizational goals. The process-related goals include time-saving through more transparent and efficient production, enhanced flexibility through dynamic planning, control, and execution, shorter lead times, and intelligence for predicting and avoidance of errors.

ERP’s role in Industry 4.0

The adoption of Industry 4.0 is possible only if the manufacturer is ready to solve data silos. Therefore ERP systems will play a significant role in smart factories as Industry 4.0 works best when the ERP pulls everything together.

Modern-day ERP software systems are able to collect more data than ever before. As more smart devices are integrated into organizations and businesses, the ability of an ERP system to fetch real-time data from all those devices will be the key differentiator in the coming years.

No doubt, Industry 4.0 will shape the future of ERP software systems for the manufacturing industry. ERP software industry leaders including Houston-based ePROMIS have made investments in technology and innovation to incorporate new technologies such as machine learning, cloud deployment, and predictive analytics into their ERP software ecosystem.