PT_Plastics Today

Plastics Today, September 2015

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18 global plastics report 2015 plasticstoday.coM Manufacturing technologies Industry 4.0: Smartening up the factory of the future T en years ago, manufacturing seemed doomed, in the West, at least. The big topic was offshoring, and the general consensus was that there was no future for companies that did not join the flight to the lower-cost countries of Asia. Today, in a complete about-face, manufacturing is back, and not just because the costs of labor in these for- merly low-wage countries have soared. Advanced manufacturing techniques, sensor technology, automation and com- munication networks are evolving and even now are changing the process of production, as we know it. Known in Europe as Industry 4.0, this development is seen as the way forward in the process of reindustrializing the countries in the West and establishing a strong, competi- tive, high-tech industrial base. A bewildering concept for many manufacturers Although the concept of Industry 4.0 may currently be the most-discussed topic in manufacturing, it is still a bewildering concept to many manufac- turers around the world. In the plastics industry, where the use of industrial, automated MES and ERP systems is by no means commonplace and a six-axis robot is generally considered the height of sophisticated automation, Indus- try 4.0 and all that it entails remains a highly theoretical concept for many processors—and disruptive in more than one sense. This is about to change: If the experts are to be believed, the world is on the cusp of a new industrial revolu- tion, one in which the buzz words are connectivity and integrated, and where everything is smart. Since industrialization commenced in the Western world with the invention of the steam engine at the end of the 18th century, developments have come thick and fast. The second industrial revolu- tion, which is commonly dated from the latter quarter of the 19th century until the outbreak of World War I, was char- acterized by the availability of steel, elec- Ubiquitous sensor technology, cyber-physical systems and human-machine interfaces are ushering in the fourth industrial revolution. KAREN LAIRD

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