The Start of Smart: Industry 4.0 brings more connected devices

Shutterstock / Ico Maker
Shutterstock / Ico Maker
Published On
Sep 15, 2021

Electrical contractors should be more vigilant than ever before about Industry 4.0’s continued advancement. The face of the new job site is one where Industry 4.0, and a higher degree of automation, is likely to be. Technicians and workers need to understand the lingo and stay apprised of what this new level of automation can do for their projects.

Industry 4.0’s expectations

Industry 4.0, referring to the fourth industrial revolution, is a moniker for manufacturing and industry’s ongoing, increasing automation and interconnection. It is achieved through integrating smart technology and connected devices into systems and equipment.

At the bedrock of Industry 4.0 is complex wiring, digitization and new sensing technologies that provide a crucial link between inputs (often analog) and outputs (often digital). This automation is expanding and growing in capability and complexity.

According to McKinsey & Co.’s report, “Digital Service Excellence: Scaling the next-generation operating model,” Industry 4.0 is being fully embraced and is expanding into other applications beyond the smart factory. It’s evolving into an exciting approach to everything from smart vehicles, factories, and more. It is at the core of a digital revolution that uses automation and sensors to perform all types of iterations.

“[The Fourth Industrial Revolution] has fully arrived and is now enabling real gain in productivity, sustainability, agility and speed to market. However, many companies are still struggling to build on early pockets of success in a way that delivers meaningful improvements at scale and across the enterprise,” according to the report.

McKinsey says the urgency to shift to digital operations is growing. Since the pandemic, employees are working remotely more than ever before, demonstrating that there’s a limit to manual processes that are inefficient and would make some production lines defunct.

A point the McKinsey report drives home, however, is that companies are in somewhat of a hurry to become more digitized.

The new age of sensors

Automation and controls are being widely used in smart, new construction and capital-improvement projects. It seems sensors are installed everywhere.

Building operational data serves as the basis for automated responses by machines, equipment and humans. These responses include logging and recording temperature, humidity and climate. As ambient temperature rises in one part of a building, its ventilation fan speed increases. If ambient temperature rises further, another compressor may turn on. Better information—when accurately sensed and responded to—means more systems can be carefully controlled. These actions optimize performance and save energy.

Energy savings come when automated controls precipitate actions that might be automated, or may remain manual. In other words, data and information are sent to someone to manually make the change: start a system, close a damper or perform another related action. In the case of manual action, it depends on how the data is used. As automation improves, it may eliminate manual action and better use automated responses: the dampers close, the fan speeds up or another compressor kicks on, all automatically.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) report, “Trends in Commercial Whole-Building Sensors and Controls,” highlights the value of energy-saving sensors in commonly used buildings.

“External factors can also affect the effectiveness of controls, in particular, for HVAC,” according to the EIA. “The optimal temperature setpoints are different for day versus night, milder versus colder months, seasons, and types of business operation. Multispeed fan control may be more effective in hot and mild climates than cold, while demand controlled ventilation may have a greater effect in cold climates than warm. Longer or shorter hours of daylight may also affect effectiveness of lighting controls.”

Systems for the future

Industry 4.0 is here and systems and equipment are using automation for efficiency. Behind every smart application there must be skilled technicians who understand automation. The age of Industry 4.0 is a call for electrical contractors to hone their knowledge and skills with automated systems and embrace the start of smart in the wake of the fourth industrial revolution.

About the Author

Jim Romeo

Freelance Writer

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at www.JimRomeo.net.

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