March 2019

28 n EXECUTIVE VIEWPOINT March 2019 We Built an Industry 4.0 Factory: What Did We Learn? Miniature gains lead to maximum progress “We often found ourselves having to convince our partners and suppliers that was another way to do things.” Most people now understand the concept of Industry 4.0, but relatively few have yet had the chance to turn the theoretical idea into practical experience. At Sick, we see Industry 4.0 as fundamental to our future development as a manufacturer of intelligent sensors and sensing systems. So, for more than two years now, we have been investing in the development of our own Industry 4.0 facility at Hochdorf, near Freiburg in the beautiful German Black Forest. It has been a rare privilege, and we have often felt like explorers and pioneers. Now people want to know: What have we learned? Above all, this experience has taught us that, with Industry 4.0, you can never draw a line and say: “It is all over; now we are finished”. Setting up a factory in a completely different way has presented us with an ever-moving target. We are always turning a corner to discover the next new idea; we are forever reimagining our processes and applications as we gain new insights. So, it has taken a long time – but now we are ready to introduce our facility to Senior Vice-President Industry 4.0, Sick Bernhard Müller Managing Director UK & Ireland, Elmo Motion Control Gary Busby Sir Charles Parsons is often credited with the invention of the modern steam turbine in 1884, when he connected a reaction turbine to a dynamo. This, for the first time, made possible the cheap and plentiful generation of electricity. However, the steam turbine was actually invented hundreds of years earlier by the ancient Greeks. The aeolipile , which was mechanically highly similar, was first invented in the 1st century AD. However, it was only ever seen then as a novelty. Several centuries would pass before anyone realised that it might have any practical applications. When looking at the future of industry, and indeed society at large, it is important to bear this in mind. Progress occurs not through technology alone, but through harnessing it to provide solutions. Technology is a facilitator, not an end in itself. Indeed, technologies that could help revolutionise the world we live in may already be out there, but are just waiting for someone to utilise them in a new way that solves a problem. Where previously governments and militaries drove the direction of technological progress – for instance with the Internet, GPS and advances in rocketry and unmanned vehicles – nowadays, the majority of R&D spend in the UK and US is shouldered by private enterprise. It is the private sector therefore which is now shaping the technology landscape, and this is where future disruptive innovations are most likely to come from. Take Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, for example. His plan is to eventually build a 350-mile route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, not because any government has asked him to, but because he