An Overview of Industry 4.0

An Overview of Industry 4.0

An Overview of Industry 4.0

An Overview of Industry 4.0


IMR’s Dr. Niall Aughney gave an overview of Industry 4.0 at the ‘Tech Disrupt 4.0’ online workshop which was hosted by the Limerick and Clare Local Enterprise Office. Niall highlighted the continuing trend towards advanced automation and data management and how it is enabling a digital transformation in manufacturing.

What does Industry 4.0 mean?


Industry and manufacturing have been continuously evolving over the past 200 years. There have been a series of evolutions that date back to the 18th century. There have been 3 evolutions so far, every 50 to 60 years:

  1. In the middle of the 19th century what’s now called Industry 1.0 happened. Mechanisation enabled by steam engine technology created the 1st factories
  2. At the beginning of the 20th century, Industry 2.0, mass production enabled by electricity and power technology solutions
  3. And in the 1970s, Industry 3.0 began with the 1st automation wave, enabled by computer technology.


Industry 4.0 describes a continued trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes which can include capabilities such as cyber-physical systems (CPS), cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence. This will mean different things to different industries, but the technology blocks are there to support that evolution. In a word, it’s about ‘data’ – how to capture the right data to provide the right business insights for companies from their assets. It’s been accelerated by the price of core technologies coming down rapidly, this includes the price of Si, compute, connectivity and storage infrastructure.

What does a typical Industry 4.0 implementation look like?


This is as varied as the industrial environments which are considering Industry 4.0 but as I said, it’s about data to enable the right business insights. There are 3 critical areas companies must consider when thinking about Industry 4.0:

  • What technologies allow you to achieve these data-driven business insights? Examples of the types of technologies that can support this questioning are robotics, analytics, IIoT, simulation and 3-D printing
  • What skills are required to implement and manage these technologies? As a consequence, how do companies support their staff in re-skilling or providing supplemental training to ensure they can integrate with these new technologies?
  • How does the organisation itself need to evolve to leverage these investments and upskilling, how is it going to use the data provided and how is it going to respond?


A ‘day in the life’ of an Industry 4.0 project focuses on data-driven manufacturing meaning companies must find ways to get machines ‘talking’ to factory systems or providing paths for those machines to provide their data in a way that the workforce can use and respond to signals from these machines. This can mean utilizing and integrating cost-effective sensors or sensor platforms if not already present on these machines to acquire the appropriate data which can then be integrated into a factory ERP or D/B infrastructure. If these do not exist or there is hesitation to allow this for security or proprietary reasons the data can be stored locally and separately to enable data visualisation for the workforce. This then enables the company/organization to take their first steps in understanding how this data can be used and help them to refine and define further needs and actions.

What types of companies will benefit from Industry 4.0 and what are the opportunities and challenges they will encounter?


Let me paint a profile of the type of company that will benefit from Industry 4.0. Companies need to be looking at what new innovations are developing within their sphere – both organizationally and technically.

From an organizational perspective, I mean companies who are already executing on a continuous improvement program will benefit from I4.0. For example, lean – six sigma methodologies for continuous improvement and driving down both non-value-add wasteful activities and reducing variation respectively.

Companies that have this focus will as a result have a high level of standardization and consistency. This is important because these companies have a strong understanding of how to measure performance and change. This level of organizational understanding allows companies to accurately assess the impact of technological change, whether that be customer fulfillment, cost, equipment availability. They will also have a good understanding of what business insights are needed for their future performance. From these insights the appropriate technological areas can be investigated in terms of their application to the business needs – IIoT, Vision Systems, Data Analytics, Augmented/Virtual reality, 3-D Printing to name but a few.

Some of the benefits IMR has seen from member companies’ adoption of the right I4.0 technologies include – process control efficiencies, lower costs, improved customer engagement, new innovations in services offered and ultimately competitive advantage. These improvements require as we mentioned previously, investments in tech, people and your organization because each I4.0 is unique to that company in terms of how it is to be utilized and as a result, the challenges each company faces will be different.

By way of examples, some of the areas which need to be addressed include cybersecurity, OT & IT interfacing, the lack of skills initially at the start of a project, the lack of standards, existing infrastructure. But when it’s thought out appropriately and the right technology, skills and capabilities are developed it does have an order of magnitude impact.

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