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Industrial Digital Ecosystems – the Fourth Industrial Revolution?


In today’s guest post, Niki Tait and Michael Jänecke of Messe Frankfurt – the organisers behind the renowned Texprocess event – share their thoughts on Industry 4.0 and what visitors can expect at the upcoming industry conference.

In 2016 PwC carried out the biggest ever international survey exploring the benefits of digitising a company’s horizontal and vertical value chains, as well as building digital product and service portfolios, entitled Global Industry 4.0 Survey.

Industry or Industrie 4.0 is a term also adopted by the German Government who define it as “a technical evolution from embedded systems to cyber physical systems where industrial production machinery no longer simply ‘processes’ the product, but that the product communicates with the machinery to tell it exactly what to do”.

To quote PwC: “At the end of this transformation process, successful industrial companies will become true digital enterprises, with physical products at the core, augmented by digital interfaces and data-based, innovative services. These digital enterprises will work together with customers and suppliers in industrial digital ecosystems. These developments will fundamentally change individual companies, as well as transform market dynamics across a whole range of industries. And that’s true in countries all around the world – in both the developed as well as the emerging markets”.

Indeed there is much hype about Industry 4.0 from governments, 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). It incorporates all the new buzz words such as Smart production, IIoT (Industry Internet of Things), IoP (Internet of People), IoS (Internet of Services), digital factory, cloud computing, Digital IQ, Digital ecosystems, CPS (cyber-physical systems), 3D BDA (Three Dimensional Big Data Analysis), creation of a virtual copy of the physical world making decentralized decisions, MES (manufacturing execution systems), RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), AI (artificial intelligence). Indeed the more you read, the more confusing it all becomes.

However, if you consider all this in practical terms rather than the jargon, manufacturing is now able to develop in ways unimaginable without digitalization. Simply put, it 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 online 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, or any operation. The most productive sales areas within a store can be automatically evaluated as can be 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 supplier’s system and the user can prioritise between his orders.

An engineer can have access to all the machines he is responsible for, and is able to identify online, from a different country, what is wrong, how to correct it, automatically order any parts or spares he may need, update and upgrade planned maintenance of any machine, and gain expert advice from the machine supplier allowing them to see direct into the machine’s self-diagnostic units.

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 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. On a country wide scale Sri Lanka is already looking at how Industry 4.0 may benefit its clothing industry, and Germany is looking at all industries and many multi-nationals are well down this road.

PwC conclude from their survey: “Industrial leaders are digitising essential functions within their internal vertical operations processes, as well as with their horizontal partners along the value chain. In addition, they are enhancing their product portfolio with digital functionalities and introducing innovative, data-based services. The 2,000+ companies that we surveyed are expecting to dramatically increase their overall level of digitisation. While just 33% rate their company as advanced today, that number jumps to over 70% looking ahead to 2020. At the end of this [Industry 4.0] transformation process, successful industrial companies will become true digital enterprises, with physical products at the core, augmented by digital interfaces and data-based, innovative services. These digital enterprises will work together with customers and suppliers in industrial digital ecosystems”.

To achieve this it is 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 is the leading international trade fair for the international garment-manufacturing and textile processing industry and thus is in a unique position to provide this platform and an opportunity for all those involved in the industry to see just what is and maybe possible. Under the motto “Technology crossing”, international exhibitors will present the latest machines, plants, processes and services for the processing of textile and flexible materials to trade visitors, from 9 to 12 May, 2017 at Messe Frankfurt GmbH, Germany. At the special area IT@Texprocess.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.