With sensors, software, and hardware, the factory of the future will be completely connected. This will enable better control of manufacturing and make it more productive. But while it is obvious that manufacturing companies will benefit from the smart factory, what is less apparent is that each individual will benefit from it as well. Seven theses about what the fourth industrial revolution − or “Industry 4.0” as it is called in Germany – will mean for our everyday lives:
Connected industry will change all our lives
Whether muesli, sneakers, notebooks, or cars – many everyday items lives can already be customized to individual tastes. The internet enables users to “configure” one-of-a-kind items according to their own personal wants and needs. Modern mass production must therefore increasingly make batches of one. In the modern factory, connected machinery will help workers carry out such orders. As our plant in Homburg, Germany, shows, this is already possible today. There, Bosch uses more than 2,000 different components to manufacture some 200 variants of a hydraulic valve (the kind typically found in tractors). Using RFID technology, the machined part is in continuous communication with its environment thanks to a transmitter and a receiver. That is to say, it “tells” the machines what they should do with it and calls up the respective work plan for the machine operator.
The modern factory will help protect the environment and conserve resources
Efficient manufacturing will also mean lower energy consumption. It is already possible to digitally map how much energy is needed where. Software can help measure and then map manufacturing facilities’ energy consumption, all the way down to individual machine drives. By means of energy-use management – deliberately switching off energy-consuming equipment when it is not needed – companies can reduce the consumption of electricity and heat. Using efficiently connected solutions, Bosch Energy and Building Solutions achieves up to 30 percent energy savings for its industrial customers.
In several areas of operation, new manufacturing methods make it possible to save resources. Metal 3D printing, for example, is opening up many new opportunities. In this process, workpieces are not molded first and then milled out or turned, but rather put together layer by layer in the desired shape from the very beginning. As a result, spare parts made of metal can simply be printed on site as needed instead of being stored at great cost in many warehouses or driven in from far away.
Connected industry will secure jobs
Certain activities and careers have always found themselves changing in response to technological transformation – and some even disappear completely as technology progresses. When enterprise resource planning programs were introduced, a considerable number of manual tasks in accounting and other financial departments were no longer necessary. At the same time, however, this development gave rise to many more jobs – new and higher qualified tasks in the IT industry, such as IT consultancy and IT services. Technological transformation gives rise to continuously new fields of work, and the need for better-trained specialists grows. In connected manufacturing, skilled workers need expertise in IT, network and wireless technology, as well as process know-how. That is why at Bosch, we include connectivity as a topic in our occupational training courses. We teach apprentices how to operate equipment using tablet PCs, for example, and improve their knowledge of networks and wireless technology in production. As part of their training to become production engineers, we prepare future associates for matters related to the connected industry. Following their apprenticeships, they optimize the operating processes in manufacturing and receive training in the IT systems needed for this task.
It remains to be seen what impact connected manufacturing will have on labor market figures in the long term. However, initial analyses show that connected industry is strengthening and preserving competitiveness in Germany − a high-cost location − and thus safeguarding jobs. A study conducted by the international management consultancy Boston Consulting Group forecasts that almost 400,000 new jobs will be created over the next ten years as a result of connected industry.
Connected industry 4.0 will help combat aging
The workstations in the factory of the future will be more ergonomical and therefore better suited to the needs of more elderly workers. For example, workstations will automatically adjust to the needs, abilities, and preferences of the people operating them. To make these adjustments, a receiver at the assembly station will read an associate’s user profile, which is stored on a kind of digital ID. The workstation will then automatically adapt to each individual associate – positioning the screen needed to operate a machine at a back-friendly height, for example, or selecting the appropriate font size. Employee representatives also believe that connected industry holds out the promise of better working conditions, since modern assistance systems can reduce things such as rigid body positions, overhead work, and physically demanding activities. With the APAS production assistant, which is a kind of robotic aid that is able to work hand in hand with users, Bosch already offers solutions that can also benefit older workers.
Germany can become the world’s leading exporter of connected industryConnected industry is not a German development. From the United States to China, and from India to South Korea, business and government initiatives are in place to pave the way for smart factories. But as the world’s leading provider of factory equipment, German industry has a competitive advantage when it comes to connectivity. Whether mechanical, process-plant, or electrical engineering, the addition of software solutions that are “made in Germany” gives us the chance to strengthen, if not expand, our position. Around the world, Bosch is already equipping its own plants with connected industry solutions − in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. As a leading provider, we can offer connected industry solutions to our customers, wherever they are.
Connected industry will affect all manufacturing companies
In terms of technology, connected industry is an evolutionary development that can be applied to any manufacturing process. Our experience so far has shown that pilot projects that companies implement gradually lead to rapid and measurable success. This approach also safeguards the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. The several open software standards that already exist give them free market access to innovative solutions and niche products. We believe this is the way development has to go, which is why Bosch cooperates with other companies, universities, consortiums, associations, and standardization organizations. This is the only way for the industry’s many voices to come together in harmony.
Connected industry will strengthen our trust in digital connectivity
Public discourse on new technologies has always taken a critical stance − sometimes too critical. One objection in the early years of trains was that their high speed made people sick. At all events, data security, data protection, and the preservation of personal privacy are considered the greatest challenges posed by digital connectivity today. As industry representatives, we can set a good example and gain users’ trust. To achieve this aim, we need to place great value on data integrity and data security. This is something we already do at Bosch. If we fail to win people over, connected industry will fail.
Published in Connected Industry in HuffPost (November, 2015)