Industry 4.0 is about using automation and data to create a true "smart" environment. Here's how Bluetooth helps the industry's many moving pieces talk to one another.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution set to be in full swing by 2025, companies across all industries are scrambling to implement digitized processes and IoT technologies. But the progress won't stop in 2025. Analysts are already making predictions for Industry 5.0, when digitization will do much more than just make little tasks easier.
In this next stage of the digital evolution, human beings will increasingly benefit from advances in automation, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence. Small Bluetooth LE beacons and tags are playing a big part in assuring all the moving parts in Industry 4.0 communicate and work effectively.
In manufacturing and distribution facilities, robots are increasingly doing the heavy lifting for their human counterparts. These robots are not android factory workers, but usually rather boxy and unassuming automated shuttles and carts known as autonomous transport vehicles and conveying modules. With the addition of articulated arms and hands, the tasks these worker-robots can perform become more complex.
In decentralized, yet interconnected operational models known as cellular transport systems, autonomous robots and vehicles move throughout facilities to perform tasks on demand. Rather than using devices that do the same task over and over, a cellular system creates greater flexibility and can lower the initial investment in automation and robotics.
In such cellular transport systems, jobs are assigned to an independent autonomous robot or to a group of robots working together in a “swarm.” In order to cooperate, individual robots and vehicles need to share data on their location and condition with the rest of the swarm.
With low power consumption and standardized protocols, Bluetooth LE tags are the go-to technology for tracking robots in the swarm. By employing cost-effective solutions like Bluetooth LE, robotic cellular transport systems are becoming more attainable and scalable, even for small and midsize enterprises.
Improving intralogistic efficiency with robotics is not only good for the bottom line, it allows people to take on more complex and rewarding challenges. While many fear that automation will take away much needed jobs, futurists like Tim O'Reilly are quick to point out that there will always be work to be done by humans. When people no longer have to perform manual tasks, they will have more opportunities to work on the bigger jobs that contribute to truly smart societies.
Full automation of industry, however, is still a long way off. As Industry 4.0 advances, people must adapt to their rapidly changing work environments. To help people become more successful, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming an increasingly useful tool for workplace training. Vocational AR platforms can incorporate technologies such as glasses, headphones, gloves, mobile devices, and interactive workstations.
When wearing AR glasses, the user sees digital images and information superimposed over their real-life environment. With guidance from the AR system, people can learn how to better perform jobs such as operating and repairing machinery.
Integrated sensor technology, such as Bluetooth LE tags, can add to the complexity and effectiveness of such industrial AR systems. Beyond training, location-based AR can help improve safety and efficiency in the workplace. Here, Bluetooth LE tags trigger warnings when a worker enters a potentially dangerous area or provide guidance and wayfinding prompts.
With the addition of Machine Learning, vocational AR platforms can grow continually smarter, collecting data on how people move and interact in the workplace. When that insight is applied in specific locations with the help of Bluetooth tracking, the results will make the workplace continually smarter, safer, and more enjoyable.
Outside the smart factory, IoT is taking root in agriculture. Reducing, and even eliminating hunger will undoubtedly be one of the biggest improvements to be reaped from digitization. With trackable processes and data-driven operations, we are gradually creating an agricultural system that can feed the world.
Like many industries, one of the biggest hurdles in the digitalization of agritech is incorporating legacy technology into the process. Farming implements, electro-pneumatic devices and vehicles can all be brought into the agricultural IoT with the help of Bluetooth LE tags and beacons. With “partial digitalization,” analogue technologies can be tracked and semi-automated.
Bluetooth LE technology is also helping farmers and horticulturalists better manage environmental variables. From regulating irrigation to adjusting growing temperatures and humidity in greenhouses, sensors embedded in Bluetooth tags can harvest the data needed to make precise adjustments and create the ideal growing environment for specific crops.
When crops are ready to be harvested, agricultural swarm robotics can be brought into play, with drones and autonomous vehicles doing the dirty work. Bluetooth LE tags can be especially useful for harvesting crops grown indoors in greenhouses and grow houses. Once the harvested crops are ready to be transported, Bluetooth LE tags can be used to track location and conditions during shipping.
Whether transporting manufactured goods or agricultural products, Bluetooth LE technologies supply vital data that aides the streamlining of supply chain management. This is especially true in cold chain logistics, where Bluetooth LE tags make it easier and more affordable to track the holding conditions of agricultural products and pharmaceuticals.
"Global losses in the food industry total more than $750 billion annually."
US Department of Commerce
These losses come primarily from errors in food handling processes and procedures. Tracking with Bluetooth LE tags helps transport companies to ensure goods are kept in optimal conditions on their way from smart farms to smart cities, leading to lower costs and better access to healthy, fresh foods.
When thinking about digitization, it is easy to focus on the tech and overlook the human aspects of progress. That's where Industry 5.0 comes into play.
While Bluetooth LE contributes to improved efficiency in smart cities with trackable and automated processes, the core value of Industry 4.0 (and Industry 5.0) will be creating positive outcomes for individuals, companies, and communities via the interaction between people and machines. Industry 5.0 means reintroducing the human element to rapidly digitalizing industry. Even with cutting-edge machine learning and automation techniques, machines are not able to take over industry completely. Understanding and strengthening the new (and continuously developing) relationship between human and machine is key to the next iteration of industry.
The resulting value comes in the form of reduced accidents on our roads, improved healthcare, increased food security and healthier, happier workers. While it may sound like science fiction, the foundation for Industry 5.0 already is being laid today, and this is perhaps the beacons' greatest role. By bridging the digital world and the physical, these are the necessary tools to make Industry 5.0 a successful development for businesses and employees alike.