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Industry 4.0 for Supply Chain – The role of AI (Part 1)

October 10, 2018 - Posted in Warehouse Automation Posted by:

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Industry 4.0 for Supply Chain – The role of AI
This is a 3-part blog, addressing the 3 questions below.

  • Part 1 – What is Industry 4.0?
  • Part 2 – Where does Supply Chain figure in Industry 4.0?
  • Part 3 – What is the role of AI in Supply Chain for Industry 4.0?

You can find Part 2 here.

So, what is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is heralded as the new wave of industrial development that will usher in a new reality in manufacturing and supply chain. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is another term that captures the essence of Industry 4.0 and can be construed as the same. What does Industry 4.0 or IIoT really mean? Let us look at the evolution of industrialization and the role of technology in the same.

1.0 – Simple and complex machines have been invented by humanity over the ages to make life and tasks in it easier. This has differentiated human beings from other species. The way such machines impacted life and society changed dramatically with the introduction of Steam Engines. Steam engines allowed us to power machines to do things greater than ever before and this led to the first industrialization revolution. Steam engines were used for transportation and in powering machines.

2.0 – The harnessing of electricity and the ability to use it to power engines and other devices led to a quantum leap in the way industry worked. If we look at how the light bulb made the night into day, we can start fathoming the impact that electricity has had on our lives. Industry harnessed the power of electricity and advanced exponentially to even make space travel possible.

3.0 – The invention of computers brought in automation. Microprocessors could be programmed with a set of instructions to carry out activities in intended sequences. We could flick a switch on and sit back and see it all in action. Robotics linked the logical microprocessor and instructions to the physical world of actions. We have entire production lines that run like clockwork.

4.0 – While Industry 4.0 is being called a revolution, it is really more of an evolution. It builds on top of the automation concepts that form the core of Industry 3.0. Interconnected subsystems talking to each other, devices that are always-on generate data continuously and respond to commands or inputs in real-time form the core of an Internet of Things. This cycle will take us into a futuristic world that is not far from the science fiction that we have seen in movies.

The secret ingredient in the Industry 4.0 soup

If Industry 4.0 is only an evolution on top of Industry 3.0 in terms of automation, and we have always had digital relays and PLCs and SCADA systems that were connected to other computer systems over the network, the question goes begging – how does Industry 4.0 usher in revolutionary change?

The secret ingredient in this soup, the catalyst and enabler of this transformation is a technology that is rapidly coming of age – Artificial Intelligence. Powerful computers, high speed wireless communication and vast instantly accessible data storage, have finally removed barriers that stood in the way of Artificial Intelligence systems that can work in near real time. Backed by the now mature analytics and big data systems Artificial Intelligence models help in interpretation of streams of data and decision making. Armed with machine learning capabilities these systems grow better with each passing day. The more data they can learn from, the merrier.

In fact, the presence of AI based decision making is what mandates that all systems be connected and provide inputs real-time. The advent of Industry 4.0 will see us living in a world with self-driven cars, smart cities, climate control, fully automated smart homes and of course smart workplaces including factories.

The next part of this blog will explore how Industry 4.0 will manifest itself in the Supply Chain.

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