Mention “Industry 4.0” to most manufacturing executives and you will raise eyebrows. If they’ve heard of it, they are likely confused about what it is. If they haven’t heard of it, they’re likely to be skeptical of what they see as yet another piece of marketing hype, an empty catchphrase. And yet a closer look at what’s behind Industry 4.0 reveals some powerful emerging currents with strong potential to change the way factories work. It may be too much to say that it is another industrial revolution. But call it whatever you like; the fact is, Industry 4.0 is gathering force, and executives should carefully monitor the coming changes and develop strategies to take advantage of the new opportunities.
Positive train control (PTC) is a set of highly advanced technologies designed to automatically stop or slow a train before certain types of accidents occur. Specifically, PTC, as mandated by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), must be designed to prevent:
Derailments caused by excessive speed
Unauthorized incursions by trains onto sections of track where maintenance activities are taking place
Movement of a train through a track switch left in the wrong position
PTC is an unprecedented technical and operational challenge. Since enactment of RSIA, railroads have devoted enormous human and financial resources to develop a fully functioning PTC system over the 60,000 miles that are subject to the PTC mandate. Progress to date has been substantial. Railroads have retained more than 2,400 signal system personnel to implement PTC and has already spent $5 billion on PTC development and deployment. Railroads expect to spend more than $9 billion before development and installation is complete.
“..all 30 ballparks will have a new tracking system called Statcast that can rank defensive powerhouses just as well as star batters. It uses cameras, radar, and sophisticated AI to put numbers on every element of a play—from the rpm of the pitch to the exact trajectory of the ball to the fielder's split-second defensive moves.”
At Convergence this week, customers profiled in various sessions played to Microsoft’s positioning of the “intelligent cloud”. They represented Azure cloud computing, machine-learning and leverage of Internet of Things in a wide range of industries. CEO Satya Nadella posited that other industries could become as margin rich as the software industry has been if they can learn to tame the coming explosion of devices and data.
The customers represented asset-heavy ones like Ford (which is using the Azure cloud for various connected services and has partnered with Microsoft for its Sync infotainment system) , Rockwell Automation (using the Azure cloud to monitor asset health).
They include Wash (an operator of laundromats which described how Microsoft helps in a low margin industry to deliver differentiating service calls and how it is starting to help with dynamic pricing )
They also represented (somewhat) asset light ones like Accuweather (which amalgamates a wide range of weather related data feeds to provide forecasts and other useful weather/climate data), J&J Services (a UK food service provider which described how machine learning is making their eCommerce portal far more interactive). Marston Pubs and Taverns in the UK discussed Microsoft tools for social engagement.
Sports science is becoming increasingly sophisticated. AtSeattle Sounders FC, (an MLS team) David Tenney the team’s fitness coach explains how its use of wearable technology, GPS data and data from triangulated video shoots are used to build fitness profiles that are visualized in Tableau and then used to optimize training and fitness plans for the star players.
Impressive all the laws of nature and tech is use to monitor the Marginal Ice Zone in the Arctic
“Among the sensors the scientists placed on the ice in March were a set of eight acoustic navigation beacons. These have base-stations at the surface, which fix their locations using GPS. They then rebroadcast that information from loudspeakers hanging 100 metres down below the ice, in the transmission layer. If a Seaglider can detect two or more beacons while it is travelling through this layer, it can swiftly compute its own position.
This may not always work, because the Seagliders might stray too far from the beacons. In that case, the researchers have a pair of robotic guide dogs to assist. These are called Wave Gliders (pictured at the top of the story). One part of each Wave Glider stays on the surface, generating electricity from solar panels during the Arctic’s 24-hour summer daylight. The other part is an array of hydrofoils suspended four metres underwater. The difference in motion between the waves above and the calm below causes water to move over the hydrofoils and propel the Wave Glider forward up to twice as fast as a Seaglider. Although Wave Gliders broadcast far above the sound layer, and thus have shorter ranges than fixed beacons, they can be programmed to shadow the Seagliders, and keep them within earshot.”