Electronics: driving a fourth industrial revolution, says head of Harting UK

Peter Hannon

Peter Hannon

As the year 2013 draws to a close, we are seeing signs of optimism in the industrial markets in the UK compared to the same time last year, writes Peter Hannon, managing director of Harting UK.

In fact, in the UK we have seen significant growth in 2013 from a mix of markets, which include transport, concert arenas and industrial automation as well as the traditional electronics and electrical markets.

Continued product innovation is important to refresh demand and satisfy customer needs, and in 2013 Harting has continued its long-term investment programs in products and facilities to grow the business.

For the future, this means evolving from a component manufacturer into a technology solutions provider developing total interconnect solutions for what we can term “integrated industry”. This is where systems, hardware, software and embedded electronics come together in an integrated smart network infrastructure that forms the basis of the factory of the future.

This concept, for which the term “Industry 4.0” has been coined, symbolises a fourth industrial revolution to follow the earlier examples of the steam engine, the assembly line and electronic controls.

In the Industry 4.0 environment, products will control their own production, and to accomplish this, they will depend on cyber physical systems (CPS). Although this is a new term, it is only a different way of describing a steady decentralisation that was initiated some 20 years ago and resulted in the formation of functional modules within the industrial environment.

Two decades later, these systems boast greater computing power, more sensors, more software, and higher intelligence. Should this really be termed a revolution, though? Isn’t it rather an evolution? Looking only at CPS, one might well suspect the latter.

But a comprehensive view makes it clear beyond doubt that we are witnessing a revolution here, because the product itself is telling the CPS what it has to do. Consequently, CPS is not merely a decentralised automation unit in an otherwise centralised system.

There’s more to it than that: it works autonomously, has almost fully matured and provides services that in aggregate make the production process more flexible and efficient.

In this context, the fact that key technologies such as RFID, Ethernet, SoA (Service oriented Architecture) and OPC-UA (OLE for Process Control Unified Architecture) already exist is highly fortuitous. These technologies further these developments, while having made them possible in the first place.

From where we stand today, it is now a matter of reaching the tipping point: in other words, the leap to the large-scale deployment of these technologies in industry – which will certainly not be long in arriving.

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