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Industry 4.0 and its Implications on the Design Process

Industry 4.0 is the term that represents the next stage of automated manufacturing that includes cloud computing, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and advancements in other digital technologies. These developments have led to what is being called ‘Smart Factories’; factories in which all the machines, devices and sensors are able to communicate, share information and make simple decisions autonomously. This next phase of manufacturing will allow the process to become more reliable, more flexible, will reduce labour costs and improve productivity.

As product designers, a key part of our job is to design for manufacture, but how will this shift in the manufacturing environment effect the design process, and what should we consider in order to adapt to the next industrial revolution?

One potential consideration may be to design-in data collection systems; for example, insert RFID in to injection moulded parts. Such data collection would allow the part to gather information from each machine and record each process that it goes through – such as time stamps and environmental conditions. This manufacturing data could then be reviewed as part of the quality control process and enable the manufacturer to pin point any issues within the system or help identify areas that could be improved. Inserting RFID in to moulded products may become a standard design procedure in the same way one would consider ejection points or split lines; designers may have to develop new guidelines for RFID to be properly and consistently integrated.

Another consideration may be the location of product manufacture. As a design consultancy, we often recommend manufacturers to our clients based on a range of factors. Sometimes it is appropriate to manufacture a product in the UK or Europe, and other times it is appropriate to manufacture the product in China where production costs are lower. However, as factories become more flexible due to the emerging technology, it may become more economical to manufacture in the UK than ever before.

During the product development process, designers will specify the most suitable materials and components for a given product. As the manufacturing process becomes more and more interconnected, so will the logistics of managing the supply chain. This will lead to a new way of planning the manufacturing process and how material or components are ordered and used. It also removes much of the risk caused by raw material prices and availability.

The implementation of “Smart Factories” will have a large impact on the work product designers carry out; however, its difficult to predict the full extent at the moment. As the technology is implemented, we will need to expand our knowledge of how it can best be applied.