Industry 4.0: transitioning to autonomy

Engineer manager checking and controlling automation robot arms

For managers of organizations looking to adopt automation in their manufacturing practice, understanding what technology is needed and how an organization needs to change can be difficult. At an operation level terms such as Industry 4.0 and automation can be meaningless generalized buzzwords. To help make sense of what can sometimes seem like nonsense, we are hosting a demonstration workshop with a focus on applied technology solutions to help you better understand how to transition to autonomy.

The workshop will provide insight to those looking to close the knowledge gaps that often exist in organizations considering automation technology but haven’t had exposure to the newest disruptive technologies. Many practitioners are looking for a deeper understanding before they can jump in and try and extract benefit and value from automation in manufacturing.

Benefits of automation in manufacturing
Efficiency improvements in time and operation cost savings in production settings can be the most obvious and frequently sought outcomes when considering a transitioning to automation. However, many people overlook some of the less obvious benefits such as:

  • Waste reduction in material processing. Advanced vision and sensor systems can allow for smart nesting operations when cutting parts from bulk material allowing for higher yield and less waste entering the natural environment.
  • A solution to global labor shortages. Many countries are presented with less available labor and increasing competition between companies looking at hiring staff. Aging population projections see this problem only getting worse in the foreseeable future. Where manufacturing has traditionally been reliant on labor force, automation can be a solution to this problem. But this does not have to be at the expense of jobs as is often touted.
  • Skillset diversification though the creation of jobs that require technical skill and ability. To run and work alongside machines, staff that are skilled in digital interfacing and have high levels of technical ability are required to be able to work as part of automated systems. With these skills comes the ability to create feedback loops where ground level staff can provide direct input into improving systems and work procedures.
  • Health and safety in the workplace are impacted heavily by automated systems. Staff can be removed from hazardous situations and environments and many repetitive tasks can be replaced by machine. This can have subtle impacts such as increasing job satisfaction, while allowing effort and exertion to be focused on more important tasks.

How to know what technology is needed? Where can we apply it?
A great way to get a deeper understanding of the automation opportunities that exist in a given setting is by having experts conduct an Industry 4.0 audit or more specific feasibility studies for a manufacturing operation or procedure. This will allow for the identification of focus points where technology can be implemented, as well as identifying key areas of organizational change that are needed. Some very small examples of some tech that is becoming readily available are those such as machine vision systems that can enable automated part and component handling, automation of inspection and measurement stations through advanced computer aided manufacturing and 3D scanning, or where collaborative robots can be implemented to help a worker lift awkward or heavy parts through to augmented reality devices assisting in complex assembly steps.

Organizational change to allow for automation
Looking at automation from an organizational and strategy perspective, an industry 4.0 audit will give guidance on where to better focus investments and effort. An increasingly common trend is that organizations need assistance and knowledge in how to better invest efforts to transition to automation. Enabling value in automation often requires an organization to put R&D investment spending as well as staff skillsets and training requirements under the microscope to compliment the technologies that will be put in place.

A common misconception is that automation in manufacturing will make all jobs redundant. This is far from the truth. To run a highly automated and digitized manufacturing environment requires staff at all levels with new technical skills and knowledge. From engineers that continually improve and design systems to operational staff that interact with the parts and components daily. A well trained and digitally interfaced factory worker can add continuous improvement feedback at various stages though relatively simple and accessible technology. Not knowing how to leverage these technology capabilities can be a huge inhibitor realizing plant digitalisations full potential, only alleviated with staff with the right skills.
If these are the sorts of topics that you would like to discuss in more detail, or explore custom workshops around technology solutions towards automation, contact us to start the conversation.

Workshops will involve an automated plant development demonstration, allowing you a unique opportunity to be immersed in a selection of the wonderful opportunities and problem solutions that are made possible with plant automation and digitalisation. The demonstration platform will allow participants to get a real-life physical demonstration and appreciation of some of the most accessible new automation technologies. Technologies that are within reach and ready to transition your organization into the new industrial age, seeing value in automation technology that extends beyond more than “efficiency”.

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Maurice Herben


Maurice Herben studied Mechanical Engineering at RWTH Aachen University. From 2006, he has worked as researcher and group manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology in Aachen. In 2016, he helped bring Fraunhofer to Netherlands by setting up the FPC@UT together with Prof. Fred van Houten. Maurice has been a member of the management team since the official start of FPC in January, 2017. FPC is now known as the Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for Advanced Manufacturing at the University of Twente.