smart industry
  • Published on 09 Jan 2015
  • External News

Smart Industry

The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries saw the introduction of mechanical production cause a shift from an agrarian, handicraft-based economy to one led by industry and machine manufacturing. The second transition at the turn of the 20th century brought industrial mass production, with assembly lines and factories creating products for mass consumption. At the end of the same century came the deployment of electronics and IT in industrial processes and robotics, automating and optimising production lines with machines taking over complex, repetitive human tasks. Now we are on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution, based on two decades of rapid advances in Internet Technology with a sweeping impact on the economy and society as a whole. Information and Communication Technologies are combining and converging with sensor technology and robotics to form an Internet of Things that will profoundly transform the industrial system.

Smart Industry: Impact of Software Innovation

Automation, robotisation, digitisation, globalisation, customer personalisation and new production methods like 3D-printing have conjoined to sneak up on us almost unnoticed with a monumental shift: the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Equipment and production system scan communicate with each other without a human interface. Intelligent sensors and Embedded Systems are bringing zero- defect production with flexible, customised items within reach. Big data enables value to be added both within and outside the chain, something that had not previously been possible. Logistics by the minute, for example. European industry must embrace all these developments to compete worldwide. Developments that go by the name: Smart Industry.

Smart Industry is built on three pillars:

-          high quality, network-centric communication between players, humans and systems, in the entire value network, including the end-users

-          digitisation of information and communication among all value chain partners and in the production process on all levels

-          granular, flexible and intelligent manufacturing technologies adjustable on the fly to meet highly-specific end-user demands.

There is no single technology or technology domain that governs the Smart Industry revolution. What we see is an alignment and convergence of rapid progress in multiple domains, with sensor technology making devices aware of other devices and the world around them, Embedded Systems equipping them with ‘a brain’ to process and communicate their observations, while cloud technology and big data solutions collect, process, transport and store the massive amounts of information sensed and communicated by billions of devices. Together, these developments constitute the Internet of Things, an internet-style network of interconnected, intelligent machines, termed Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). A key challenge for Smart Industry will be to create robust and secure networks. New and more intuitive forms of Human-Machine Interaction will also play a pivotal role in managing secure and robust networks, and smart industry value networks in general.

Mass customisation

These are some of the conclusions presented in Smart Industry, Dutch industry fit for the future. This report, presented to Dutch Prime Minister Rutte in April 2014 – and co-authored by TNO – the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, is the Dutch riposte to the German concept of Industrie 4.0, whose concept of the extremely automated production of unique products is largely geared to the automotive sector. Where a factory used to have the three basic requirements of labour, material and machinery – the hardware, a fourth has now become essential: information – the software. Smart Industry is about using information smartly, or software innovation, and to the full. Machines that talk to machines within and outside the chain. Smart software and communication will enable all component parts for a vehicle or installation or device to be delivered punctually in the right order and without fault. This requires the embedding of intelligence in the production environment. Enter the Internet of Things.

The industrial internet

The Internet of Things enables assets – physical things – to communicate something about themselves: what they are, where they are, their condition, their temperature and so on. These interconnected devices can then form a convergence point between the physical world and the digital world and enable the system to make smarter and timelier decisions about matters in the real world. This represents a paradigm shift in industry: a convergence of the real manufacturing world with the digital manufacturing world, to enable organisations to digitally plan and project the entire lifecycle of products and production facilities. Enter the industrial internet.

The full potential of the industrial internet will be felt when the three primary digital elements –intelligent devices, intelligent systems and intelligent automation – fully merge with the physical systems to enhance productivity, lower costs and reduce waste throughout the entire industrial economy. The huge shift that is happening in manufacturing today with the advent of new technologies, smarter assets and smarter devices have made today’s advanced factories essentially data centres that present data to the right user at the right time. A real, sustainable manufacturing renaissance will be based on software technology and its profound effect on the entire manufacturing value chain. The boost this will give to productivity, efficiency and innovation, speed-to-market and flexibility will, in turn, lead to a powerful new cycle of growth and value creation: an era of virtual-to-real manufacturing.

Urban manufacturing

“What we are seeing today is that the manufacturers of yesterday – like Philips – are becoming the solution providers of today and tomorrow – close to the customer”, says Egbert-Jan Sol, Director of Innovation – High-Tech Systems & Materials at TNO. “For instance, Philips does not make the light bulbs themselves anymore, but creates lighting solutions, for highways, buildings or even city centres. And suppliers have to perform sub-assembly manufacture at the drop of a hat – fast and custom-made. In this new business model, supplier-manufacturers will have to be able to interface intelligently and flexibly with their large customers, whose role is increasingly becoming manager of the user experience. This implies a need for modular, urban manufacturing close to the demanding user, whether professional or consumer.”

3D printing

A game-changer here is the increasing use of three-dimensional (3D) printing and additive manufacturing technology enabled by software and advanced technology. “A network of ‘local’ factories with additive manufacturing capability and a few robots will enable the customer to have his product assembled and delivered to his doorstep within a few hours of ordering,” Sol suggests. “It is a matter of downloading the software and configuration – the logistics are facilitated by ICT rather than wheels – and products are built by machines layer by layer according to digital blueprints.” Although the technology has been in use since the 1980s, until recently applications in industry had been limited to prototyping parts or products for analysis and testing. Increasingly, 3D printing technology can fabricate complex, high-value parts using powdered metals and lasers, and advances in 3D printing technology are enabling customisation at increasingly granular levels.

Medical device manufacturers can already make personalised orthopaedic joint replacement kits custom-fitted to an individual’s anatomy. One is as likely to come across a 3D printer in a hospital as in a central production facility. And by adding a smart component such as a chip, a product can even ‘interact’ with the user. An example is the idea mooted by a university in the UK for a compact helmet containing a chip, complex algorithm and airbag, to be worn by people susceptible to falling, so that a fall can be anticipated and the impact thereby limited. 

“Another advantage of additive manufacturing,” says Sol, “apart from its flexibility, is that it requires fewer raw materials. Since it uses only what is needed, it is a much more sustainable form of manufacturing. Now we have to significantly boost the speed.” Advanced manufacturers are actively pursuing the next frontier in production capabilities. The next cycle of software integration, advanced digitisation and networking will harness big data feedback in real-time from customers and suppliers, as well as information about the operation of the production machinery and the product as it is used. Production machines will become self-optimising.

Clusters of software expertise

It is in the European interest to facilitate these developments, and cooperation and collaboration will be vital. “The urban manufacturing concept will become a global phenomenon,” Sol warns, “so it is essential for Europe to stay ahead of the game, certainly in our own market of 500 million consumers. It is a mature market that wants smart, personalised products and services rather than mass production. Innovation, software development and education will be keys to enabling Europe to reassert itself as a manufacturing leader. In terms of education, there is likely to be a greater focus on design, so not just programming for a virtual reality but for an actual product. Additive manufacturing offers possibilities for enriching engineering and technology with creativity. Print your own food – what shape, what texture, what flavour, what experience? Manufacturing then becomes a much more dynamic user-oriented interplay. It will create jobs and be essential in promoting innovation and long-term competitiveness, accelerating economic growth in both Europe and beyond.”

Since all these goals depend on sophisticated software design and architecture, the role of clusters of software expertise is vital. This new era of advanced, virtual-to-real manufacturing will reorder the global business landscape for decades, and the key success factors for companies, countries and regions will be innovation, software and education. Manufacturers need to take a close look at their operations and look for opportunities to capitalise on software and advanced technology across their entire development and production process. These will be the leaders that set the future landscape in and for Europe.


By Egbert-Jan Sol (Director of Innovation – High-Tech Systems & Materials,  TNO),

Ir. Sam Helmer (Business Development Manager – TNO High Tech Systems & Materials),

Chris Horgan (CPLS Text & Copy)

Source image: TNO