How Automation is Paving the Way for Industry 4.0
Published on : Friday 08-04-2022
Sambit Bakshi elaborates upon how automation is paving the way for Industry 4.0, using AI, Data Science and ML.
Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and Machine Learning are rapidly gaining traction in today’s era. Therefore, the need to understand these technologies and their capabilities has become more important than ever. AI is an intelligent entity created by humans, that is capable of doing tasks effectively that have typical required human intelligence.
Although the terms automation and robotics are quite similar, it is not always correct to use them interchangeably especially when there is a clear distinction between them. Robotics in its true essence refers to the design, creation, and use of robots to perform tasks. Whereas automation is the application of computer software to develop a predetermined sequence of operations automatically, and preferably intelligently.
Automation is increasingly becoming an integral part of digital transformation. Over the past few years, it has accelerated a major shift in required workforce skills. The demand for advanced technological skills such as programming, critical thinking, and cognitive skills is growing rapidly, which has further lessened the demand for arduous physical labour and manual skills. This, however, does not mean that automation will replace humans. Recent research by McKinsey & Company1 suggests, only 3 percent of the global workforce would need to change their occupations by 2030. The sole purpose of its existence is to compliment, not replace humans. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum2 (WEF), automation will create an additional 12 million new jobs. So, while automation will, to some extent, replace current jobs, it is all part of a larger upskilling effort.
The automation-driven global transformation is also supported by the advent of Industry 4.0. For example, cashiers in retail stores are now supported by self-checkout machines. Having said that, professions like managers, teachers, psychologists, etc., will still be difficult to automate.
Apart from skills, there will be a major shift in the design and development of infrastructure, workplaces, and workflows. For example, it is predicted that warehouse designs will undergo significant changes to facilitate human-machine interaction and accommodate robots. Now, more companies are harnessing AI and automation to create an economic surplus by managing the smooth transition of the workforce and workplaces.
The manufacturing sector has seen the most significant application of automation technology. In the context of manufacturing, automation is the use of equipment to automate systems or production processes, with the ultimate goal to increase efficiency by increasing production capacity or lowering costs. Utilising automation in manufacturing with advanced technologies such as robotics and robotic process automation via ERP software enables even greater productivity gains for manufactures every day.
There are mainly three types of automation used on the factory floor – Hard Automation, Flexible Automation and Programmable Automation. The type of automation used by a manufacturing operation is usually determined by the products being produced, the machines required, and the available resources. Hard/Fixed automation is characterised by high production rates and initial investment. Therefore, this kind of automation is most suitable for large volume industries such as chemical and automotive industries. A Flexible automation system, on the other hand, is used to produce a wide range of products while minimising the time taken for changeovers from one part style to the next. Its time-saving feature is achieved by utilising multiple tools that are linked by a material handling system. Lastly, Programmable automation is a type of automation in which products are manufactured in batches ranging from a few dozen to several thousand units at a time.
Another major application of automation is in the domain of communications which spans from automated mail-sorting machines, communications satellites, to automated telephones. Automation has also been applied in the transportation industry in the form of computerised reservation systems, urban mass-transit systems, automated rail transportation, and locomotives. Additionally, in health care, the use of automation has increased in order to relieve the burden on healthcare workers, ever since the advent of Covid-19.
If automation and AI are applied intelligently and successfully, they can provide significant future opportunities. Humans can be freed from repetitious, risky, and unpleasant labour, and they can enjoy a higher standard of living and a better way of life as a result.
IEEE Member Sambit Bakshi is currently with the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the National Institute of Technology Rourkela, India, where he leads the Visual Surveillance Laboratory. His research interests are biometric systems, visual surveillance systems, and digital forensics. He previously served as the Vice-Chair for IEEE Computational Intelligence Society Technical Committee for Intelligent Systems Applications for the year 2019.
Article courtesy: IEEE (The images used are for illustration only).
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