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“Enabling Technologies for Industry 4.0”

With so much focus on the consumer aspects of the Internet of Things – smart thermostats, smart fridges, smart doorbells – it’s always good to see something about what’s happening in an industrial setting. It’s only fair, especially given that, well before there was an IoT, the networked device concept was already in play with machine-to-machine technologies.  So I was very happy to run across a post on TI’s site, “Smart factories of the future – Enabling technologies for Industry 4.0,” by Ahmed Bahai.

Why Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0, in which factories will become smart enough to optimize production so that there can be cost-effective customization, represents the fourth Industrial Revolution. (In case you weren’t paying attention in history class, the first Industrial Revolution, and the factory system, came about thanks to harnessing water power and the introduction of the steam engine. In the second Industrial Revolution, electricity replaced other power sources. Then came Industry 3.0, the digital revolution, in which information technology and electronics began automating production.  Bringing us to Industry 4.0.

The technologies that are enabling Industry 4.0 including embedded sensors, network connectivity, data analytics, and software platforms. In his post, Bahai chooses to focus on just “the key attributes of the Industrial Internet from the semiconductor viewpoint, in particular the role of analog and embedded processing as key enabling technologies for the new wave of intelligent manufacturing,” starting with embedded sensors.

Bahai notes the sensors in manufacturing are nothing new, and that embedded sensors won’t be replacing “rugged industrial sensors,” but will complement them.  He writes:

“Integration of magnetics, ultrasonic and optical sensors on a chip or in the package can facilitate diagnosis and prognosis of sub-systems with incremental cost and no major impact on the infrastructure. Predictive maintenance using data collected by distributed networked sensors is an instance of increased efficiency in smart factories of the future.”

He then discusses embedded processors:

“Local processing of data is critical for real-time and low power embedded sensor modules… Embedded processors for industrial sensors are highly differentiated by their integrated low power interfaces, intelligent power management and integrated clock references. Also, a combination of hardware and software security features is critical for secure communication as well as IP and tamper protection.”

Bahai points out that networking,  i.e., “ubiquitous connectivity is an essential enabler of Industrial Internet, and goes on to say “an embedded low power MCU with connectivity and intelligent power management can operate on a coin cell for 10 years.” The final area he discusses is isolation technology, writing that “transferring high data rate information and wideband signaling for measurement and control across isolation barriers is increasingly important in many industrial systems.”

As Bahai says, we’re “at the dawn of the so called ‘Industrial 4.0’,” which means you have plenty of time to go over to the TI site and check out his full post. (The post is quite informative as well as being quite brief, so you’ll definitely have time for it!)