Our society has experienced several moments throughout history in which the application of a technology has meant a radical change in how things are produced, so much so that it has totally transformed the quality of life of societies. In the first three industrial revolutions, technologies (steam, electricity and transistors) made an impact on production capacity by reducing the limitations of force and automation, greatly enhancing the manual capacity of human beings.
"The Fourth Industrial Revolution differs from the previous ones in that for the first time it focuses on breaking down the barriers of knowledge through the application of the Internet of Things or IoT, to sensorise and connect, thus capturing data from any process; and artificial intelligence technologies or AI, to extract information and knowledge from data, thereby enhancing the ability to make decisions and human intelligence".
So, what does this revolution enable us to do? To mention some of the use cases that are emerging from the application of IoT and AI, we could talk about robots capable of learning, autonomous vehicles, preventive detection of anomalies, predictive maintenance, immersive virtual reality, and so on.
All of this is enabling all kinds of industries and productive sectors to improve their processes, so that they are more efficient, secure and can even predict the needs of their business more accurately.
Sectors such as energy, aerospace, mining, petrochemical and the automotive industry are immersed in the transition to a fully digital industry. For Telefónica the IoT is a pillar of the business to connect objects securely and efficiently in this process, in addition to the development of data technologies which has been added in recent years. For us, it is a priority to be the strategic partner in our customers' digital transformation, because in this way we help the current industrial processes to evolve and make them more agile and efficient.
The change begins in the factories themselves, as they have already started to adapt to the manufacturing needs of new products of the digital era which require innovative processes. This change involves three phases of evolution to reach Industry 4.0: (1) wireless manufacturing or the sensorisation and connection of everything using IoT technology, (2) the virtualisation of intermediate layers or data collection and integration into industrial process management platforms, and (3) the application of artificial intelligence (AI) for decision making.
The first phase of creating the smart factory involves equipping it with sensors and connecting all the elements of the factory, transforming it into a wireless factory. This enables more dynamic and flexible production lines, which can be easily adapted to the production requirements.
This whole transformation process would not be possible without the help of the Internet of Things and its evolution towards the new industrial IoT networks, which accelerate its implementation thanks to the progressive implementation of 5G and LTE protocols. These also ensure that the transmission of data in the processes is carried out with the level of security and reliability that industries require.
Once the factory has been equipped with the IoT, the second phase is oriented towards the collection of the data captured by the sensors, which, once integrated into the industrial management platforms, enable decisions to be made in real time.
Finally, the data collected is used to carry out an analysis that helps in the decision-making process. Thanks to this, behavioural patterns can be detected, and algorithms can be defined for the daily management of the factory, with future predictability to correct and adapt production in real time.
With this transformation, the entire business cycle is visible (e.g. the supply chain and internal logistics), enabling managers to make better decisions and it can now be described as a 4.0 factory.
The figures show that, although it has been slow, the development of more digital industries in recent years is already a reality. In a report on Industry 4.0, the consulting firm PwC confirms that more than 50% of the industry has already begun the transformation process, which shows that Spanish companies are willing to undergo this change and are aware that digitalisation is necessary.
In addition, digitally advanced industries can increase productivity by 2.2%, as the report indicates. However, the benefits of this change are not only centred on economic returns: the personalisation required by the consumer is also achieved through the digitalisation of the entire production process.
When we talk about industry 4.0, we mean the connected industry, the implementation of 5G will play a very important role and we the subject of industrial IoT networks to meet the demands of future consumers will soon become another topic of conversation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here to stay, and its scope will not only improve industry, but also the society where we live.
Emilio Gayo, CEO of Telefónica España
This post is part of Telefónica's contribution to the Congreso Industria Conectada 4.0 Blog, in which it was originally published.