The fourth industrial revolution

A hot buzzword among engineers with visions of the industrial production of the future is Industry 4.0.

One person who sees the possibilities that open up when intelligence is moved from a central computer to the individual machines is Mats Björkman, professor at Linköping University, Sweden. The Swedish manufacturing industry is being given a chance to become competitive in actual production. The only thing left on the list of things to do, is to open our minds to what’s new and start working.

Industry 4.0 is the manufacturing industry’s chance to reign supreme, not only in regard to quality, design and function, but also in production, according to Mats Björkman, professor and head of the Department of Industrial Production within the Department of Management and Engineering at Linköping University.

“What we need now is for corporate management to understand the new opportunities and put talented engineers to work.”


From Germany

As a concept, Industry 4.0 was born in the ever technology-loving Germany. As the ideas spread, particularly to the rest of Europe and the United States, the concept changed language into English.
In summary, Industry 4.0 is about achieving a higher level of intelligence on the whole. Instead of a central computer being the only brain in a production solution, the intelligence is moved to the individual devices. This enables them to communicate with each other directly, thereby streamlining the way the machines work together.

“Low wages are not something for example Sweden can compete with. Swedish engineers are not particularly expensive in comparison, but simple work is expensive. That’s why advanced technology and smart solutions give us an opportunity.”



The idea is to connect the production equipment in a system of an even smarter way, with more importance being given to connection issues. If the individual machines can talk to each other, the steps in the process that stand in the way of production speed and profitability can be minimized.

“Basically, it’s all about needs, first and foremost the requirements of the industry’s customers for solutions to their challenges. Then the industry’s need for technology and ideas that satisfy customer needs. Swedish industry needs to be at the forefront if it’s going to get commissions.”

To make this happen and to allow production to remain in Sweden everyone is working together: government, researchers, education and industry. All projects are collaborative and long-term customer satisfaction is always of the utmost importance.


Not just automation

Just like in Germany, the Swedish government understands that the industry’s competitiveness on the global market is a crucial issue, “The German government and German industry, with a tradition of good production, decided to move forward together. We’re doing that in Sweden, too. The government gives the industry support and attention and allocates research funds.”

In a strategic planning document from the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation called Smart Industry – a new industrialization strategy for Sweden, minister Mikael Damberg first praises Swedish industry’s creativity and adaptability, then writes: “But Swedish industry has too long been treated like a historical relic on the road to the post-industrial society.”

We need to rethink and think really long term this time. “This is why Sweden’s strategy for industrial innovation looks beyond the online industry and has the ambition to meet the demands for innovation that increased sustainability requirements impose on the industry and its products,” Damberg writes.
Mats Björkman sees many companies promoting themselves as if the fourth industrial revolution is already under way.

“The truth is that they may have made it to 3.5, but the government wants us to take it much farther than just clever digitalization. We need to predict the future, and that’s what scientists like me are working on.”


Man in the system?

As for the people involved in the automated industry of the future, Mats Björkman sees two sides to the issue. One is that digitalization will require production workers to be even more skilled; the other is that the university students that he and his colleagues teach will need to change their attitude. Instead of seeing production as something unexciting, they need to pounce on the new digital challenges with creative enthusiasm.

Most things already work in theory, but getting the technology to work in an industrial environment is another thing.

“We need really talented engineers who can turn the research into the best practice that live up to what we call Industry 4.0. Production in Sweden is in our future.”

The difference between a researcher and a consultant

There’s a large gray area, so Mats Björkman is particular about the difference between being a consultant and doing research. “Like all professors in the Swedish Production Academy, I work with general issues and core technologies. We try to see how everything fits together, from customer needs to the industy’s long term needs for equipment and expertise. Our job is to make the principles work.”

Mats Björkman lists four key attitudes to adopt in advance of Industry 4.0:

• To see production as having a driving role in the company
• To be aware of the risks of relying too much on outsourcing and being too dependent on external help
• To be good at making demands. No supplier can completely understand your company’s needs
• To give technology as much attention as you give to management solutions

“And by all means, don’t forget that high end equipment also needs to look professional! SVIA, now part of ABB, is a prime example.”

SVIA has been delivering information solutions for a long time, and sees standardized solutions within  Industry 4.0 as a natural goal. Matthias Grinnemo, technical manager at SVIA, is grateful to Mats Björkman for encouraging design and presentation. He shares the professor’s views on the industy’s state of readiness for Industry 4.0:

“We see a demand for Industry 4.0, even though customers don’t have a clear idea of what it is commercially and technically. It’s important to quickly utilize standardization in order to create sustainable solutions, avoid technical segregation and show clear improvements in business.”



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