The future of manufacturing

Some call it ‘the internet of things’. Some call it manufacturing 4.0. Whichever label you choose, the supply chain and manufacturing industry stands on the threshold of a great new development: smart materials. CGI is closely involved in pilot projects and studies.

The analogy often made to explain this development is as follows: 1.0 is the invention of the steam engine. 2.0 stands for the introduction of the assembly line (by Henry Ford), whereas 3.0 is the use of information technology. 4.0 takes this use of IT a step further. Sensors and tags are embedded in physical objects – raw materials, intermediate goods or finished products – and are linked with wireless networks, thus becoming smart themselves.

Smart products

Victor Beverloo, Lead Consultant Manufacturing and Supply Chain Acceleration at CGI, makes a comparison with the consumer market: ‘When you order something, say a book, on the internet, you are often able to follow the whole trajectory: when it leaves the warehouse, when it’s offered to the postal system, the projected time it will arrive at your home. Compare this to the world of manufacturing, which is often a black box. Until now. Manufacturing 4.0 allows for items to know what they are, where they’re going and what they will be. Think of a battery, made in China. Through a tag or a chip it knows it’s a battery, destined for the UK to be part of a smart phone. It knows its route and the part it needs to be assembled with and where. And if something occurs in supply or demand, it can reroute itself to be part of something else elsewhere.’

Advantages

The advantages for the supply chain and manufacturing industry are clear: end-to-end visibility and transparency. Manufacturing 4.0 gives you the possibility to look - in detail - a few steps ahead and back at supply and demand, which gives you the opportunity to better plan your work and respond faster to lows or peaks. All in all, you can achieve a more detailed level of information in the entire production chain and ultimately you might be able cut down on storage facilities or raw materials. In other words: smart products lead to smart and lean manufacturing. This detailed and up-to-date insight truly enables ‘managing the unpredictable’.

Transparancy

‘This transparency can also be a delaying factor in the development of manufacturing 4.0’, admits Beverloo. ‘Some companies will have to get used to the fact that everybody involved may see how they operate, which capacities are available and at what prices. Other question marks are who will start developing the necessary infrastructure and whether this infrastructure will also be available for smaller parties at a reasonable cost. That said, there are already some pilot projects underway. The automotive industry is quite far ahead, as are companies who transport expensive or climate-controlled products.’

Pilot projects

One of these pilot projects is iCargo, a four-year collaborative project stimulated by the EU. iCargo will build an open and affordable architecture that allows real world objects, existing systems and new applications to efficiently co-operate, enabling more cost-effective and lower CO2 logistics through improved synchronisation and load factors across all transport modes. Beverloo: ‘CGI is involved with iCargo and several colleagues are participating in other pilot project and studies. Our combined knowledge of the supply chain and of IT makes the ideal software partnership in these projects.’