Industrial digital ecosystems – the fourth Industrial Revolution?

Incorporating all the new buzz words such as IIoT, IoP, IoS, digital factory, Digital IQ, Digital ecosystems, CPS, 3D BDA and much else, there is so much hype about Industry 4.0 from governments, key consulting companies, industry experts and academics, that it is being said ‘we stand on the cusp of a fourth Industrial Revolution’ (hence the term Industry 4.0).  Indeed the more you read, the more confusing it all becomes.

However, if you leave out the jargon and consider all this in practical terms, manufacturing is now able to develop in ways unimaginable without digitalization. Simply put, one could define it as is the linking together of all the digital information and automation within and available to a company.

Theoretically a customer can sit at home or his office and customise his own shirt, both for fit and design preferences on line through an online retail website. He can select his own fabric, adapting the patterning on line as he wishes and then see virtually how all this fits his actual body shape and size in three dimensions. At the manufacturer the patterns can be automatically selected and adapted to fit this order.  The marker can be made automatically. Greige fabric can be automatically called from the warehouse and fed to a digital printer and then conveyed direct to an automated cutter.  The cut pieces can be moved and monitored between operations using an automated handling system right to the dispatch of the garment, with manufacturing instructions feed directly to the machine or operator.  The dispatch can be monitored through to delivery through every stage.

At a high street retailer, by using RFID or similar, the company can see how many times a garment size, colour and style has been selected, tried on, bought and returned. The customer can be advised automatically about other styles, in stock, which would look good with that garment.  The entire production history can be accessed down to the actual roll of cloth and the supplier, and individual operations. The most productive sales areas within a store can be automatically evaluated as can the most effective ways of displaying the products.  Sales analysis feeds back to the range planners, stock control, etc, automatically triggering stock replacement, reorders and much else. Linking systems with suppliers, the user can see exactly how his orders are progressing through the suppliers system and the user can prioritise between his orders.

So much is now possible due to digital developments and with technology developing exponentially it is quite clear that each company needs to re-look at its systems, methods and operations and identify both what is possible both now and in the foreseeable future; what is and would be useful; using both holistic and lateral thought, and re-develop his operation accordingly to become ‘true digital enterprises, with physical products at the core, augmented by digital interfaces and data-based, innovative services digital enterprises working together with customers and suppliers in industrial digital ecosystems’ to quote PwC.

To achieve this is it clear all systems, machines and technologies need to be looked at as a holistic entity, working together and integrating to achieve the desired aims. There is nowhere better to do this than where all these systems, machines and technologies are displayed in one place, together with the experts that develop, modify and supply them.  Texprocess which takes place from 9 to 12 May, 2017 at Messe Frankfurt GmbH, Germany provides this platform.

Author: Niki Tait

Lilliffer Seiler

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