6 June 2019
Reading time: 12 minutes

The fourth Industrial (R)evolution

Industry 4.0 and its foundation, the Internet of Things (IoT – especially in industrial version: IIoT), in the last years have dominated the way of thinking of advanced management concerning manufacturing business resources. Every new machine, application, actuator… is proudly advertised as ready to be connected to the Internet of Things. Is it really new quality and added value opening new horizons, or is it only a marketing trick to sell useless products and services? Let’s find out.


Age of industrial revolution


Industry 4.0 owes its name to an agreed division of ages of production method development based on caesura determined by inventions. It was, in order:


  • Steam Age! – Started by James Watt’s developing a steam engine (as well as a planetary gearbox) period of establishing factories as we know them today. Then, steam became the medium of energy for the first machines and manufacturers one after another adapted this ‘revelation’, or suffered marginalization because of inefficiency compared to competition powered by steam.
  • Electricity Age! – Improvement of generating, transferring and converting electricity into kinetic energy changed the image of industry again. Edison’s invention (direct current system) had already shown the big opportunities that opened for manufacturing industry, but the real step to the world which we know nowadays was the concept of alternating current system, which we owe to Nikola Tesla. The energy could be transported at long distance, as well as generated and turned into movement of devices, safer and more effective. The equally great impact had the invention and implementing mass production lines in Ford’s factories. Again, those who remained too long with their foregoing methods, lost their competitiveness in the market comparing to those who built their success around new technologies.
  • Computerization! – We have been witnessing this history with our own eyes. Computers in a few decades have been improved up to a reliable form (to acceptable extent), less expensive, microminiaturized, incredibly efficient and flexible in functions and form. Nowadays, we rely on them while creating, processing and storing data necessary for production and their specialized versions (PLCs, microcontrollers, PACs, industrial PCs…) are controlling and supervising production, transport and storage…
  • So we are at what has been called The Fourth Industrial Revolution! However, is it in fact a surprising and dramatic revolution, or it’s just the natural result of whole history of development.

The fourth Industrial (R)evolution

The previous revolutions happened because of inventions based on already known ideas and technologies. The prototype of a steam machine was built already by Hiron of Alelxandria (also a pioneer of robotics) over 2000 years ago and the ways of harnessing electrical energy were also not invented by Edison (after all, we owe its name to ancient Greeks, from ”elektron” – amber, material which easily gets electrified and the oldest galvanic cells, known as Baghdad Batteries, were found in layers from III century AD). Even calculating machines were not born out of thin air in the minds of XX century scientists (here, an impressive example of genius of the past inventors is ancient astronomic computer known as Mechanism of Antikythera). Inventions which are milestones of industrial revolutions, already in case of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd one, were to some point the evolution of ideas known before, which, however, had to wait for technological and mental maturity.


Those revolutions, according to their names, required a complete change of thinking of production. They required complete replacement of obsolete machinery, or rebuilding whole plants. And this is the main difference in comparison to the Industrial Revolution no.4.


Industrial (R)evolution 4.0


The concept of industry 4.0 and its foundation, which is the Internet of Things, is not a classic revolution. It’s not about razing the old world. It does not require to build a new business framework from scratch. It does not need huge investments, changing machinery and personnel. It is at it’s very core rather Evolution 4.0. It’s something that naturally, under pressure of expected functionalities, is materializing itself as a natural technological progress in the field of IT science. It’s agents has been sneaking into our companies, factories, but also cars or even homes unnoticed for years now. The software which we commonly use today, machines, devices, controllers, or even individual sensors often have been Industry 4.0 Ready for a long time. Although it might be that we have not used it so far, or we did not even know about it, they have built-in interfaces and implemented protocols for sharing data outside. They are prepared to communicate with other machines, programs, or, finally, with people who make strategic decisions. They are ready to work in the Internet of Things.


What is commonly missing is the way of turning data into information. Factories, lines, or even individual machines generate terabytes of unprocessed data on a daily basis. To turn the data into valuable information which will help better understand and at the same time optimize in the context of efficiency and reliability, we need a dedicated platform. An application which will analyze, process and share the data from devices and software of higher level with people responsible for that. Presented in a clear form, dedicated especially to them, not only making the understanding of situation easier, but also thanks to advanced algorithms, suggesting the right decisions.


ThingWorx – Your guide in the data crowd


Platform which was created to realize the ideas of Industry 4.0 in a user-friendly way is ThingWorx by PTC (company famous for applications such as MathCad, Creo, Windchill, or recently a great platform of the Internet of Things KEPServerEX). ThingWorx was developed to make possible to build applications dedicated to particular clients and their needs with ease. Because of exchanging and analyzing data from many sources (ranging from individual sensors, through machines, lines, to software like MES, ERP and other classes), it is possible to present to particular users properly edited and filtered data, improving the decision process in terms of production supervision.


It is not a product which requires a revolution in a company. You don’t have to replace already used applications of SCADA, MES, ERP, PLM type, maintenance or warehouse support systems …, which are already in use in many companies. There’s no need to replace owned machines. ThingWorx’s job is to gather, correlate, analyze and visualize the data from all the devices and applications which at the moment are working independently of each other and report it to assigned people, on any device in any localization. Production manager does not need to see particular parameters on HMI screens, but want to know OEE indicator (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) of the whole line, bottlenecks of a production chain, or sources of downtime in his laptop, even when out of office. Maintenance manager wants to know the inventory of spare parts, predict failures, or be immediately informed about any failures of crucial machines that happened unexpected, via SMS or email even on the phone and only then dive deep into details. There are different roles and authorizations to access the data. There are also different places and devices where the data should be available.

The fourth Industrial (R)evolution

What is the whole revolution for?


Those managing production machines, vehicle fleets, distributed devices have dreamt of having tools for a better control and optimization of a factory for decades. So far, it often require gathering various reports from distributed and separated applications and devices and then manually analise data. However, if the data already exists in digital domain, why not integrate it? Why not improve its analysis and accelerate detecting anomalies?


What other needs can be addressed by the Industrial Internet of Things? Below, there is a list of issues which we’re going to take a closer look at in the next episodes of our guide through the world of Industry 4.0. We’re convinced that everyone who has something to do with production, will find the answer to at least one of the problems recognized in their own plant (along with a suggested solution).


  • Constant monitoring/diagnostics of machines condition. Regardless of whether we’re talking about, big complex monobloc machines or individual devices, one and the same problem is disposal assurance, work continuity and efficiency of them. Regular maintenenace inspections scheduled once in a quarter of a year, spare parts piling up, unforeseen failures and eventually replacement of sometimes still fine machines (to prevent unexpected failure)… all of those generate costs which could be avoided with ThingWorx. It is even possible to predict failures in advance thanks to the use of artificial intelligence algorithms, based on parameters analysis from built-in or added sensors. More about constant monitoring parameters, preventing maintenance, notifications and alarm escalation systems based on installed on the machine and added sensors (vibration diagnostics, measurement of physical parameters or power consumption disruptions…) in a dedicated article.
  • Convergence IT/OT. IT department, automation specialists and machine maintenance engineers in many plants work completely independent of each other and see on a daily basis architecture network of a factory in a totally different way. Automation has to be, most of all, reliable and safe, while IT, in turn, eagerly reaches for cloud mechanism resources to improve and accelerate processes, cutting off ‘not-trusted’ terminals as a way of preventing attacks (including cutting off automation). However, both of the branches have ‘grown up’ enough to cooperate, creating totally new possibilities. Remote diagnostics of devices, synergy being a result of data analysis from both distributed automation islands and applications of a higher level production management, access control from one company’s account and any given terminal… all of those with the guarantee of data security and production continuity – all of that became already possible and in a safe way.
    You can find more about how ThingWorx can help access more crucial information due to cooperation of so far suspiciously looking at each other worlds of IT and OT, in our next article.
  • Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). What if we could see with our own eyes a machine in a place where we’re planning to place it? Or we could see a course of a pipeline to check if it does not collide with other objects? Or maybe we would like to quickly teach or remotely support operators and service men in both daily work and while they’re dealing with a machine malfunction? What if our client could assess our product in a destination place using only their mobile with a camera? Here, we’ve got visual systems and those of augmented and virtual reality. Instead of static screen of a computer, the condition of a device can be seen ”applied” in 3D in a real space or displayed on a real device. The machine itself, as a complete Digital Twin, can ‘stand’ on our desk so that we could support a service man located kilometers away from us, in problem analysis, also ‘looking through his eyes’. A wide range of solutions allows even today to use ‘future technologies’ in every company. More about that, in our next article.
  • Optimization of electrical energy and other media consumption. Exceeding the ordered power, especially in case of a breakdown or a crisis, especially during seasonal power level limits can be quite hard to address manually. In similar way it is difficult to identify the biggest energy or media consumer and make a decision which can reduce it’s usage. Adding measuring devices and connecting already installed ones along with the right algorithms in ThingWorx, due to meta analysis, can suggest changes leading to significant reduction of monthly bills for the media.
  • Vehicle fleet’s control. Railway depot, car transport, inland fleet… We often lose control over vehicles as soon as they leave our facility. However, thanks to ThingWorx, we can not only see the current position of every vehicle on a map, but also the information about who and how long drives the vehicle, as well as additional exploitation data (speed, fuel consumption, oil level…), or in case of special transport, also the level, temperature or humidity in a cargo compartment. The revolution in a form of semi or fully autonomous vehicles is inevitable as well (look at currently working robots in warehouses or production supply) and this is also an element of Industrial Revolution 4.0 which we are already preparing for.
  • Economic effect. Modern technologies cannot be just fetish detached from the needs. The final effect of digital transformation cannot finish with beautiful visualizations and terabytes of unprocessed data which gives no benefits to economy. As all the previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution makes sense only if it can improve the competitiveness of a factory. How to reduce outages, delays, improve product’s quality, reaction time to a breakdown, how to determine efficiency of particular components and identify bottlenecks – this should be the final result. In the article, we will track how particular ThingWorx implementations helped turn data into information and information into economic result.


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