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Industry expert Keith Morris, PM Group, talks about Industry 4.0 and the key impacts it will have for people, data, productivity and quality.

What is industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is an initiative started by the German government in 2011 as part of their high-tech strategy to promote the computerisation of industry.  At the heart of Industry 4.0 is the concept of the cognitive factory where all components communicate and the factory optimises its own performance.  It has four key design principles:

  1. Interconnection
  2. Information transparency
  3. Technical assistance (Robotics)
  4. Decentralised decisions

Who is involved in developing it?

Industry 4.0 affects all industries from Aerospace to Food to MedTech. Industry focus groups have formed to assess the impact in specific sectors.For example, in pharma, the ISPE have formed the Pharma 4.0 special interest group and BioPhorums are actively looking at the impact on biopharma production.

Using the pharma industry as an example, how will it change industry?

Our prediction is that this will impact the pharmaceutical industry in a number of ways:-

  • Increased use of robotics- will remove the operator from potentially harmful or repetitive tasks
  • Improved access to process information- will allow operators to be more mobile and flexible
  • Improved data collection and analytics - will allow better understanding of the process
  • Building and maintaining a Digital Twin (a virtual model of the facility and process) - will support troubleshooting, predictive maintenance and process improvement
  • Increasing standardisation - will reduce design build and validation times

The overall impact will be to reduce design and build costs whilst improving quality.

Which technologies are having the biggest impact today?

The technology having the biggest impact in pharma is not new technology, but it is being applied in novel ways or in non-traditional industries. For example, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are technologies that were developed for the gaming industry. They are now being used to provide improved information to both operations and maintenance personnel. When this is combined with 3D image recognition, this can provide targeted, specific information such as process values or maintenance manuals for the systems being looked at. 

Machine learning

Neural Network Processors are also being used for advanced visual recognition for inspection or to drive automated component picking, these systems are not programmed, but taught how to recognise components or faults with significantly improved detection rates.

How will it affect people, productivity and quality?

So it is anticipated that Industry 4.0 will have a significant effect on the workforce. Robotics will remove the need for operators to handle hazardous materials in open processes and reduce the need for them to be involved in repetitive tasks such as environmental sampling.With improved connectivity and data transparency, come improved reporting. This in turn promotes understanding and enables real time release of products.Ultimately, it will lead to improvements in quality and productivity as equipment utilisation can be optimised.


About Keith Morris

Keith is a Fellow of the IChemE with over 35 years’ experience in the analysis, design and specification of automation systems across a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, food, polymers, chemicals, petrochemicals, oil and gas production. He is a committee member of the IChemE Process Management and Control Subject Group.

Keith has been involved in all phases the automation project life cycle from requirements gathering, conceptual design and consultancy to testing and validation, he has extensive working experience with various DCS, PLC, SCADA, and MES systems.

Keith is a specialist in the Technology Team providing technical support across PM Group.