Unleashing the benefits of industrial convergence

August 30, 2018 // By Jeff DeAngelis
The ultimate cyber-physical system is best described in simple engineering terms as a classic closed-loop system where each piece of equipment is connected to one another by reacting to its surrounding environment through a nimble feedback loop. 

However, if you are a Star Wars fan like myself, then this unifying concept in many ways embodies another iconic image—that of Yoda, the Jedi Master, manipulating the Force by simple thought. This unifying concept, in turn, drives industrial convergence.

The magic of industrial convergence comes when systems have the built-in intelligence and self-awareness to adjust and act according to their changing environment, without the need for manual intervention. Such an automated, smart factory is poised for high productivity as well as high product quality levels. Consider, as an example, the robots produced by Boston Dynamics. Equipped with sophisticated sensors, complex algorithms, motors and actuators, these robots gather information, interpret this data, and dynamically adapt to the environment around them in their quest to complete their given tasks.

This level of autonomy represents the promise of Industry 4.0, the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) in factories. Making industrial convergence possible requires underlying technologies such as sensors, actuators, and digital and analog IOs; in other words, the key functions required by industrial control systems inside these automated factories. From a technology standpoint, however, supporting industrial convergence requires meeting criteria that weren’t really a concern in older factory environments.


Robots at work

Today’s factories are a bustling blend of human and robotic activity as Industry 4.0 permeates the manufacturing landscape. Electronics assembly, testing, picking and packaging—these are among the tasks that robots can now handle in manufacturing facilities. Robots are pitching in to help make cars, computers, appliances, and a host of other goods. Indeed, the elements of Industry 4.0 can be found beyond factories.

In warehouses, robots are making repetitive
tasks such as moving boxes more efficient

Robotic welders on an automotive manufacturing line
provide an example of a smart factory environment.

Inside Amazon’s warehouses, for example, you’ll find people working alongside robots, with the robots handling repetitive tasks and the people monitoring and troubleshooting them. Together, they ensure that items ordered online are packaged and shipped out promptly. Even products that you wouldn’t expect to be mass produced on a line can be created with the help of automation.

Consider the artisan bakery Tartine in San Francisco, California. Now, the very definition of handcrafted artisan bread goes against the concept of mass production. Yet Tartine’s owner has discussed the benefits of placing coworking robots alongside the bakers, perhaps helping to load bread into ovens and perform other tasks that would make the process more efficient as the bakery expands its operations globally. In Japan, a company called Spread has created an automated indoor lettuce factory where robots plant the seeds, raise the vegetables, and carry lettuce heads to a packing line. These examples of creative collaboration are referred to as Industry 5.0.

According to an article published on Recode, the market for industrial robots is projected to grow from $12.3 billion in 2016 up to $33.8 billion by 2025. Notes the article, “…a new generation of manufacturing robots is emerging that is more collaborative, smaller and more perceptive than traditional machinery.” Smaller, smarter robots call for electronic components that can deliver on both counts.


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