Irish Manufacturing Research CTO Michéal Cassidy and Research Lead Ken Horan were recently interviewed by Barry McCall Irish Times for their expert views on Industry 4.0.

The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it has become known, is set to fundamentally transform the way in which manufacturers make, distribute and sell their products. It has the potential to usher in an era of mass customisation, where products are tailored to meet the needs and tastes of individual customers rather than mass markets. It will also bring opportunities and quite daunting challenges for Irish-based manufacturers.
“If you look at the last 100 years of technological advance in manufacturing, it has been about varying degrees of mechanisation of manual labour,” explains Ken Horan, industrial research lead with IMR, the IDA- and Enterprise Ireland-backed manufacturing research organisation. “Industry 4.0 is about the beginnings of the mechanisation of intellectual labour.”
Michéal Cassidy, chief technology officer with IMR, says one of the big challenges for industry is the scale of the change taking place. “If you look at Industry 4.0 and the smart factory, it’s about the system, the process and the products all being intelligent,” he says. “There is what is known as a digital twin, a representation of everything happening on the factory floor up in the cloud which enables the optimisation of everything going on in the facility. You can get overwhelmed by the scale of it but there are some quick wins to be had.”
These quick wins include the improved efficiencies in elements of the manufacturing process. “It might be a small level of customisation,” says Cassidy. “One big promise of Industry 4.0 is mass customisation, where every product is bespoke to the customer without adding to the cost. This will apply to everything, including garments or running shoes or even cars.”
However, by using just part of the enabling technology, a running shoe manufacturer could add value through part customisation. “They could integrate a service offering into the shoe by embroidering the customer’s name or initials on it,” he explains. “Manufacturers don’t know who is getting the shoes at the moment but in future, every product through the line will have a digital representation allowing the customer’s initials to be embroidered during the process. In much the same way medical devices could be customised to individuals based on a scan of their body.”
Cormac Russell of leading medical device manufacturer Boston Scientific sees these possibilities already become a reality. “Our mission is to develop solutions that transform people’s lives,” he says. “Our focus is on the development of products which improve patients’ lives more effectively and less invasively and more efficiently. Innovation in medical devices will never stop.”
The trend now is towards personalised rather than population-based medicine, he adds. “It’s about more empowered patients and individuals deciding on their own treatment. Also, the cost of healthcare is going up. How do you fund expensive new solutions? We have to continually provide added value and this is leading to devices becoming smarter.”
These smarter medical devices have sensors which track body parameters and adjust their activity accordingly. For example, a heart pacemaker which reacts to the heartbeat of the patient in real time.
“Connectivity is also important,” Russell adds. “The devices will be able to upload data about their performance and the patient. That data can then be translated into decisions about whether to schedule an appointment or even cancel one.”
On the manufacturing side, Industry 4.0 technologies will help continually improve quality. “We produce life-saving or life-enhancing products that go into
a patient’s body and will last five or 10 years. Quality is vitally important and we strive to continually improve what we do. Medtech is a relatively low-volume but high-quality industry. Automation is not as critical to us for production efficiency but we use it to reduce errors and take variation out of the process. We use the data we gather to see what exactly is going on in the factory in order to enhance performance and quality.”
Gearóid Mooney of Enterprise Ireland says that one of the problems for Ireland is the large SME manufacturing base here – but there is help at hand. “SMEs will face particular challenges. The technology is moving at the speed of software and this presents challenges in terms of the resources required to keep pace with the speed of change. They need an environment where they can talk to their peers and try out technologies before they invest in them. IMR is doing valuable work in this area. It brings large and small companies together to cross-share ideas, talk about the issues, and collaborate on projects.”