Industry 4.0: The Armor of a New Machine?

Shutterstock / Suwin
Published On
Aug 15, 2018

Like pyramids in Egypt, oil wells dot the landscape on the plains of Oklahoma, pumping ceaselessly. Back in Texas, petroleum engineers sit in their cubicles, monitoring picture-perfect renditions of the wells on a flatscreen monitor, taking note of the extracted crude oil’s temperature, pressure, and volumetric flow rate, toggling between screens to review the performance of some 60 wells.

The oil drillers have been modeled as a “digital twin,” an exact 3-D replica, and retrieve data in real-time, using a labyrinth of wiring and sensors transmitted through the internet of things (IoT) to a remote location. Digital automation, however, goes far beyond the oil and gas industry to the factory floor of most industries, from automotive to chemicals, heavy equipment to electric utilities. This gives rise to a new movement in industrial automation and control.

Welcome to Industry 4.0. This moniker refers to the digitization of systems and equipment for control and monitoring, using complex sensors, integrated circuits and other conductors. This digitization allows huge volumes of data to be processed with algorithms (that many wouldn’t dare to try to understand), parlaying information into dashboards to measure performance, condition and efficiency.

“Industry 4.0 is a catch-all that covers any and all of these innovations sweeping manufacturing and office environments: automation, IoT, big data, cloud, sensors, robotics, predictive maintenance, 2-D and 3-D printing, and augmented reality,” said Steve Marquis, principal engineer at Fresh Consulting.

More than two-thirds of enterprises either use data from the IoT, or plan to. Industry 4.0 is a massive undertaking that someone has to hardwire, maintain and repair. The networks and equipment must be set up properly if industrial facilities want their automation to set their operations apart from global competition.

“Industry 4.0 is having a profound impact on the electrical contracting industry,” writes Sarah Boisvert in “The New Collar Workforce,” which explores the jobs needed today in the digital world. “No longer are simple installations enough. Customers expect the industry to come fully into the digital world, incorporating technologies that improve performance through simulation, real-time tracking, analysis of big data, and more. Our old view of blue-collar workers has to change if we are to provide 21st-century services to our customers. ‘New collar’ workers need to tap into digital skills, which means specialized training. New digital badges and microcertifications provide just this, and the industry must support innovative programs that will allow for our staff to rapidly adapt to a changing workplace.”

For contractors, one way to add value is to understand the problems that interference can play with wiring systems and electrical components, in close quarters, used to support IoT and Industry 4.0.

“It might be tiny packets with almost no power, or fast, huge payloads,” Marquis said. “It may be close in, or at great distances, and all variations in between. The common challenge is signal integrity in a sea of potential collisions. Even cabled versions bundled in conduits and plenums are not immune from data corruptions, because high-bandwidth 1G, 10G, HDBaseT, and HDMI are all pushing the limits on their cables and suffering from attenuation, spreading, forwards, backwards and inter-cable crosstalk.”

Whenever hundreds of cables run long distances together like this, technicians must mitigate interference that could be counter to the automation’s operation.

“In the early days of wire wrap construction, it was quickly discovered that wonderfully neat bundles for wire were spectacularly successful in having unwanted conversations with adjacent wires,” Marquis said. “Likewise, the airways, if they could be seen, would be a stormy sea of chaos with super-waves and lightning flashes randomly crashing through the rooms, drowning out or blinding the faint signals.”

It is important to find out how much interference in the bands already exists, or at least anticipate it with channel plans best for the condition’s signal strength. It also helps to understand how building shielding can be a help or hindrance, or might be specified for the desired effect. Planning and accommodating for multiple smaller wire bundles, smaller cell size for routers, and lower power but more frequent RF nodes becomes the name of the game. A shrewd contractor can greatly benefit control installations.

In this era of control and digitization, new technology abounds waiting to be installed by ECs. Companies are hungry for help, eager to become well-wired, and armed with digital twins, remote dashboards and a digital mirage of control for their products, plant and equipment, as the industrial world turns to Industry 4.0. The evolution of engaging Industry 4.0 is the next chapter in global industrialization; it will change the tempo and efficiency of how world production moves.

The EC is at the center of this, ready to perform a new job: enable systems, equipment, and operations to automate with Industry 4.0, and exploit this lucrative opportunity.

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

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