Regardless of how you see it, Industry 4.0 has the potential to create profound changes and new opportunities for manufacturing. But what is Industry 4.0 and what will it mean? With its roots in Germany, Industry 4.0 is the next stage in the digitization of manufacturing, shaped by four trends: high data volume, advanced analytics, human-machine interaction, and digital-to-physical transfer. The effects will be widespread and reach all aspects of industry, from preproduction to sales and delivery to factory maintenance. Benefiting from these changes will require investment into new technologies and a focus on digital culture.

Full Digitization for the Next Stage of Manufacturing

But what will this extensive digitization mean for specific industries and for the testing services on which they depend? While every industry requires testing labs to ensure the highest level of product quality, those which are rapidly investing in digitization will require them most.

For the automotive industry, equipment reliability in plants is crucial, since some facilities are operating nearly 24 hours a day. “Machines have failures, and some will be due to breakdowns brought about through wear and tear,” says Werner Struth, Industry 4.0 specialist. “If you set up a condition monitoring system, again paired with a digital twin, you can make predictive maintenance strategies.”

In addition, Thomas Kautzsch reports in Harvard Business Review, “With real-time monitoring and improved analytics, German machine operators are also increasingly avoiding replacing parts too early or too late. Instead, they can bring their stock levels more in line with actual needs. By using 3D printing to obtain parts “on demand” with very short lead times, many are avoiding keeping a large stock of spare parts on hand.”

While this means opportunities for suppliers of data collection and storage, the market for testing labs will also open up. Not only will this mean increased demand for inspection of electronics, but of large autonomous machinery as well, which must be tested to ensure reliability, low failure rates, and minimized maintenance.

Aerospace and defense companies are already investing heavily into digital solutions and are expected to achieve an advanced level of digitization within five years, according to a PwC report. To improve part quality while reducing costs and boosting productivity, aerospace industries are utilizing flexible 3D printing technologies in production, repair, and maintenance. Greater efforts at automation are also taking off, with increased adoption of robots, automated vehicles, and other autonomous technology.

“Industry 4.0 will also benefit part designers and manufacturers, especially those in the medical industry. With reverse engineering, a digital portfolio of CAD dimensions can be easily derived from medical device prototypes, for example. Behind this innovation is industrial computed tomography (CT), which offers device manufacturers a detailed look into internal components in 3D without destructive testing,” says Jesse Garant, president of Jesse Garant Metrology Center. “Through this technology, valuable intellectual property is at the fingertips of part designers and manufacturers, expediting the preproduction process and ensuring tight quality control.”

The continued advancement of industrial CT makes it an attractive NDT solution, contributing to its growing usage among part manufacturers today and well into the future. In the October 2016 issue of Quality, Sara Malik, business development analyst, sees four trends behind this increased usage: higher image quality, improvements in CT technology, enhanced software capabilities, and efficient service providers.

The Future of NDT Lab Services

The role of NDT lab services will be supporting, but critical for this next stage of industry. Frost and Sullivan recently identified several key issues for test and measurement services. The most important involves requiring an unprecedented level of knowledge from system operators and quality engineers who work with the data, resulting from the greater complexity of devices designed and produced by manufacturing companies. “The complexity of smart products necessitates a superior level of testing and attention to detail right at the design stage, intensifying the demand for sophisticated and accurate instrumentation,” says research analyst Apoorva Ravikrishnan.

With increased complexity of manufactured devices, the potential for part failure also increases. The recent catastrophe of Samsung’s Note 7 has raised awareness of faulty devices and their negative impact not only on profits but on credibility and reputation. This striking example illustrates that accurate and detailed inspection is a key aspect of preventing costly recalls.

For NDT inspection service companies, prudent investment into the latest imaging technologies will be required to provide part manufacturers with the range of capabilities which they need to make qualified decisions. The demand for advanced inspection will be great and so will the need for technologies like industrial CT, digital X-ray imaging, and 3D scanning.

For aerospace and automotive inspection specifically, it will be important to have the right machinery that allows for scanning of larger parts and automation of large volume scans. Large volume scans are only possible because of the increased digitization offered by advancements in imaging technologies like industrial CT scanning. The transition from “wet” radiography with film to digital 2D X-ray imaging to full digitization in 3D with industrial CT underpins prompt inspection.

While keeping up with the latest hardware is crucial for success, more sophisticated imaging software and greater computing power are also integral to continue providing quality inspection services. Software for CT technology, for example, has seen substantial improvement in its analysis capabilities, allowing it to keep up with the demand for increased accuracy when dealing with large and complex datasets.

In order to support these new technologies, investment in digital infrastructure will be necessary. To find success in this future, companies will need to implement strategies which include cloud computing, reliable data storage, webinar services, and power backups to ensure integrated and seamless operation.

People Focus for Digitized Industries is Vital

But the biggest challenge for industry will not just be investment in the right technology, but on emphasizing a digital culture within an organization. Ironically, it is people who are at the center of this digitized future. Technology cannot simply be an end in itself.

Success will therefore depend on a broad range of human factors that revolve around building a robust digital ethos. Both manufacturers and testing companies need employees who are comfortable working within a dynamic, data-focused environment. This can be accomplished by attracting and training competent analysts who can think and act like digital natives.

Industry 4.0 will also see the demand for interdisciplinary skillsets rise. For example, the heat treatment industry is currently experiencing this as an obstacle to implementing its digitization strategies. “An additional challenge will be finding talent with a deep understanding of physical metallurgy and the industrial heat treating domain, in addition to the ability to convert this understanding into analytics, algorithms, and self-learning intelligence that leverage IT systems,” says Satyam Sahay of John Deere Technology.

Another hurdle involves the clash of cultures and the lack of governance and collaboration within an organization. While departments differ in their specific needs and outlooks, it is important to find common ground by establishing the right organizational structures between management, IT, business departments, and analysts. There must be a coordinated effort from the beginning to ensure the company can actually benefit from competitive advantages.

With data-centered industry it’s essential to secure a strong level of digital trust with customers, backed with transparency and accountability. There must be a focus on facilities with proper security and surveillance along with maintenance of standards and certifications. The use of encryption technologies to ensure the security of confidential intellectual property is central to maintaining trust with clients. Thus, focusing on strong risk management and data integrity will ensure that companies can avoid breaches and manage disruptions.

Arguably, the future is already here. The reality of Industry 4.0 is now manifest in many of today’s industries. It’s important not to buy into the hype, but to be aware of the reality. Ultimately, to find success with Industry 4.0, companies need a clearly defined vision coupled with the flexibility to accommodate rapid technological change.