200 years ago, the first industrial revolution introduced the mechanized factory. A century later, the second industrial revolution incorporated science to optimize the factory for mass production.
Industry 3.0 came along more quickly after that, bringing automation, computers, and software for even greater optimization. For the supply chain, that meant software-driven automation such as palletizing/depalletizing, sortation, and storage — all systems we’re still implementing and optimizing today.
As we continue to put the best practices of Industry 3.0 into warehouses worldwide, Industry 4.0 arrived way too soon… or at least it feels that way. Luckily, the overarching Industry 4.0 theme of connectivity lets us bring those automation systems together and to new offerings, to enable actionable, cross-functional intelligence.
However, time and technology have progressed beyond these automation-based optimizations. We’re now less than a decade into the fourth industrial revolution — Industry 4.0 — which includes the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), big data, cyber-physical systems, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other digitally connected innovations. It’s up to us to use our collective 3.0 experience to intelligently integrate and implement 4.0 advancements that provide greatest ROI.
You have to know the past to understand the present.
— Carl Sagan
Industry 3.0: automation supported by software
For warehouses worldwide, Industry 3.0 focused on optimizing order fulfillment through automation. Highly complex warehouse environments required warehouse management and execution software, medium complexity facilities often combined automation controls with warehouse execution and workflow optimization systems, and low-complexity spaces concentrated on mobile work execution, workflow optimization, and device middleware.
The supply-chain industry knows Industry 3.0 well… really well. For many of us, our entire careers and lives have been dedicated to some aspect of the design, development, implementation, and operation of the automation systems that drive the intralogistics in today’s warehouses and distribution centers.
However, time and technology have done what they do — continue on. Automation optimizations are now table stakes. Connectivity is the way to achieve greater optimization possibilities in Industry 4.0, and to enable optimizations of the future.
Industry 4.0: the smart warehouse, supported by software
We’re now less than a decade into the fourth industrial revolution — Industry 4.0 — which includes IIoT, big data, cyber-physical systems, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other digitally connected innovations.
Luckily, the overarching Industry 4.0 theme of connectivity lets us bring material-handling automation systems together and to new offerings, to enable actionable, cross-functional intelligence.
Industry 4.0 can seem intimidating, but not if we look at it as an extension of the automation software already in today’s warehouses
- The Internet of Things (IoT) — or more specifically Industrial IoT (IIoT) — connects to your existing software, systems, and services to pull out information in the form of direct connections in newer implementations, or mediated by devices and sensors in older ones.
- The cloud gives that information somewhere to live.
- Big data chomps on that information and gives it back to you in way that enables you to make smart decisions.
- Machine learning and AI takes what big data tells it, adjusts operating procedures to improve productivity, and shares the new best practice with other IIoT-connected software.
- Cyber-physical systems, such as automated guided vehicles, robots, automated storage and retrieval systems, and digital-twin warehouses, do the work.
If some of those cyber-physical systems sound familiar, it’s because we’ve been using them in the supply chain industry for years. It’s the connectivity that’s new. It’s the connectivity that enables smarter optimization decisions, whether those decisions are made by humans, software, or a combination of both.
If some of these cyber-physical systems sound familiar, it’s because we’ve been using them in the supply chain industry for years. It’s the connectivity that’s new.
Connectivity is the way to achieve greater optimization possibilities in Industry 4.0, and to enable optimizations of the future.
Connecting automation… and anything else you can think of
Creating connections with existing automation is only the beginning. Industry 4.0 promises even more connectivity… Your warehouse controls, execution, and management systems. Your building and maintenance management systems. Alert monitoring and utility usage. Weather feeds. Holiday calendars. Marketing plans.
The more data sources you can find and connect, the better. More connections lead to more opportunities to find the beauty in the data — to discover the previously hidden patterns, interdependencies, and unknowns that make our days in intralogistics… interesting, to say the least.
It’s up to us to use our collective 3.0 experience to intelligently integrate and implement 4.0 advancements that provide greatest ROI.
We have no time for downtime.