In my last post, I took a closer look at how the fourth industrial revolution is impacting warehouse management activities, as illustrated by a couple of videos showing how Amazon used to manage their inventory and fulfillment processes, and how they it can be done today.
It is important to understand that the previously described scenario could never occur without the technological advances now possible within the mobility movement now underway. Without mobile communications, there is no way devices could speak to others all on their own.
To illustrate the incredible advances that will be possible in the future, it is helpful to look back at the computer revolution, starting back in the 1970s, when we had mainframes first hit the scene. These were amazing machines capable of performing calculations no one even though possible. Then, just 20 years later came PCs in 1990s that could perform 1,000 times the complexity of operations in a structure that was 1/10 the size. Today, tablets and smart devices are now taking the world by storm, with processing power that dwarfs those PCs of the 1990s, in a form factor that is nothing short of stunning.
If you now look at the robotics industry, a similar revolution is now underway. The initial robots were highly specialized, very expensive, and tough to program just “right.” Similar to the mainframe tech era of 1970s, the new trend of today is towards smaller, versatile multi-purpose robots. Now programming a new movement can be done by simply moving an arm in the motion desired – its memory will then instantly retain this action. Two-way communications between robots and production line could then mean new levels of performance, which could bring us the next “tablet” or “smart device” era of innovation.
Another example of how the Internet of Things, as part of the fourth industrial revolution, could impact manufacturing operations is with material replenishment requests. Those factories operating with Lean manufacturing principles have Kanban systems to trigger replenishments of bins, now done manually by shop floor workers assigned specifically to this task. In an automated IoT world, Lean supermarkets or bins could be refilled automatically by machines that move the inventory from the warehouse to the production line. The system already knows what is happening, so doesn’t have to bother showing the humans what is needed – the devices will simply carry out the order all on their own with no human intervention.
Is this a world that sounds a bit George Orwellian? Perhaps. But as they say, necessity is the mother of all invention, and today, we have a whole lot of necessity that is driving some amazing innovation, as part of our desire to expand output, cut costs and improve quality. Time to buckle up for an exciting ride as we transition through the fourth industrial revolution!