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Industry 4.0 during times of health crisis

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29 April 2020

The unprecedented situation we are currently experiencing worldwide will mark a before and after at all levels. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing society to reinvent its behavior model.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing society to reinvent its behavior model. Governments have taken measures of a gravity that they have never had to take before; businesses have had to drastically change their production model; world health has experienced an unprecedented change in how it prevents infectious diseases and handles patients; and industry has been forced to evolve in its constant search for process automation and its journey towards Industry 4.0, using digital transformation as a driving vehicle.

In our annual Smart Industry 4.0 study, we take a brief look at the paradigms that are fundamental to achieving this transformation, and which will become the perfect travel companion for any industry that decides to face the challenges of digitalization. They are the basis of digital transformation and, properly implemented, improve the efficiency and development of industrial processes by integrating manufacturing, injecting greater precision and agility, and providing greater autonomy for factories. Such paradigms are also essential to understanding how some effects from the enormous health crisis that has enveloped us could be, or could have been, mitigated.

 

Industry 4.0 Paradigm

According to the study referred to above, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence are the two paradigms that companies will focus on most in the coming years. They are also the two main transformational pillars in the fight against coronavirus. In particular AI, which has emerged as the main ally in this battle, by reducing drug development timescales and faster epidemic detection by rapidly diagnosing cases.

Another paradigm that seems to be essential for business investment over the coming years is IoT. This technology is also providing important support to public administrations in monitoring citizens, by making use of apps and geolocation so that movements can be controlled either proactively or reactively.

Horizontal and vertical integration are currently considered by companies to be leading approaches. From an analysis of extended supply chains during the crisis, visibility and collaboration by the different actors involved in the shipments would have been vital to ensure extensive tracking of materials from their origin to destination.

Blockchain is one of the paradigms that has less influence on companies' investment plans and could certify and give greater validity to that traceability of people and products that is so needed. In fact, major IBEX 35 companies have already raised with the government the potential of using this disruptive technology, and managing the data collected by autonomous mobile apps.

On the other hand, the more automated a company is, the less dependent it will be on having human labor physically present for production and administration related processes. This is where autonomous robots and RPAs come in. Simulation also takes on a special relevance - particularly with the large amount of work currently being done on the famous infection curve.

Another aspect that is fundamental in the fight against COVID-19 are the new human interfaces that are currently being used for online training and virtual reality, and which highlight a future in which people will need to get used to wearing intelligent watches that measure their body temperature.

Additive manufacturing - in particular 3D printing - has also been one of the key heroes in this crisis, in which the community of makers has helped by selflessly printing health protection screens, respirators and other equipment. Once this crisis is over, this form of production will undoubtedly burst into the business infrastructure.

This business infrastructure is also being kept going by mobile technology and the cloud. Teleworking has become the guarantee of stability to be able to continue working from home. Meanwhile the cloud is making it easier to continue these activities remotely. Both factors will come into our lives when this situation has been overcome, because the testing ground is working satisfactorily. Furthermore, according to our study, interest in the cloud has grown exponentially over the last year. Directly linked to the correct functioning of these last two paradigms is cybersecurity, which serves as a protective screen against possible computer attacks.

After highlighting their influence in different areas, we argue in favor of the importance of these paradigms - both in times of crisis and in the future - with the aim of achieving a reality that is better prepared productively and socially. The path to achieving Industry 4.0 must go hand in hand with the digital transformation that is required across a company's main domains: digital supply chain, digital manufacturing, digital products and a digital corporation.

 

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