Industry 4.0 and The Dark Factory

Jan 15, 2021
5 min read

Industry 4.0 can be described as a bright future of the industrial revolution with dark factories. It has brought in a virtual world of living with autonomous machines based on the Internet of Things (IoT). It's also an era of intelligent production that has grown from the fast-evolving technology dynamics across the world of digital transformation.

The Concept of Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is typically used interchangeably with the idea of the fourth industrial revolution, which is believed to encompass four central concepts: Internet of Things technology (IoT), smart factory, smart manufacturing, and the dark factories (lights out manufacturing).

It's heavily focused on real-time automation data, machine learning, and interconnectivity. Here, modern smart technology is used to automate traditional industrial practices and manufacturing to make better-connected ecosystems for the companies that are majorly focused on supply chain management and manufacturing. Although different companies are operating in today's world, they tend to experience a common challenge of the need to access real-time insights and connectedness across their products, processes, people, and partners. This has facilitated IoT to be integrated with machine-to-machine communication to increase automation, self-monitoring, improved communication, and the creation of smart machines that can detect and analyze issues without human help interventions.

Will Industry 4.0 Create Dark Factories?

Generally, a "dark factory" refers to a fully automated industrial production site such that the creation of products is entirely done without any direct human operation taking place in the area. Automatically controlled machines carry out the whole production process from the entry of raw materials into the factory to the delivery of finished products.

In short, a dark factory is a form of production type of industry 4.0. Progressive digital transformations of the technical production systems due to digital changes are likely to increase the number of dark factories in the markets.

The principle of "lights out manufacturing" primarily alludes that automation will lead to no people working in the production site who might require light in their operations. Theoretically, the facility is run in the dark, i.e., without any lighting.

How Close Are We To Building The Dark Factories?

Dark factories are a reality that's approaching very soon. In the manufacturing process, connectivity is not a new thing. The recent trends like the emergence of industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution), the convergence of the physical and digital worlds, including operations and information technology, have increased the possibility of supply chain transformation.

Although human resources are widely used in many manufacturing plants, the efficiency is much higher with machines in dark production. Steps have been made to achieve the dark factory technologies which have worked so well. For example, the Changying Precision Technology Company in China is a manufacturing company that used to recruit 650 employees, but now it only requires 60. All the employees were replaced with robots, and this is a typical company using the dark factory model.

Internet of Things is the core of industry 4.0, which enhances speed, and in a nutshell, it's the future. Soon all devices will be connected to the internet, and every individual will be using them. Dark production has enormous benefits with new ways of implementing automation, high accuracy levels, faster automated processes, better analysis of problems, and increased output.

Will Machines Create New Jobs?

In the past, machines have been replacing and creating more jobs. With the technological advancements in IoT and artificial intelligence (AI), machines are replacing human labor as they can accomplish both cognitive and manual processes without humans' help.

Automation has a significant effect on making many jobs redundant. Besides, it's not jobs that are precisely replaced by automation, but it's the tasks within the jobs. There has been a positive correlation in many studies between jobs and automation up to date. For instance, in Germany, the increase in robot density across the automotive sector with around 1150 industrial robots per every 10000 workers led to increased employment in the car industry by more than 90000 opportunities from 2010 to 2015.

The desire to shift to dark factories is overwhelming, and automation takes many industries by storm every year, causing them to attract little workforce. On the other hand, there will always be industries requiring vast human intervention to manufacture or assemble or need top-notch engineers for onsite production processes.

What Are The Skills Needed To Run a Dark Factory?

Individuals with the right skills for industry 4.0 will be of value with developing dark factories, although they are very few. Companies will experience an increase in the number of employed robots to improve manufacturing efficiency, which will result in fewer employees than before.

But what exactly are the necessary skills required in these companies? They will need college graduates with technological skills to supervise the growing numbers of manufacturing robots. The displaced workforce can also learn the desired skills for the newly developed type of jobs. The machines will need adequate care for the software they use, electrical and mechanical components. Manpower will be adequately required to innovate and manage the workflows of the devices.

Is There Infrastructure and Training To Build These Skills?

On the job training and several mass open online courses have been designed to address the shortage of skilled personnel. They encourage workers to obtain new qualifications and skillsets while still in their jobs.

A great example is the Siemens Campus located in Erlangen, Germany, which teaches its trainees how to use AR (Augmented Reality) to work with cooperative robots. They tend to create solutions for the problems created by artificial intelligence. Trainees here are taught how to digitally check components and use virtual models to test code for automation systems.

Labor will be displaced in the industries that transition to dark factories, and in turn, new work will be created in the sectors that make the latest machinery. The talent demand that arises with the latest technology favors experienced and skilled enough, translating to jobs with better pay.

What Does The Dark Factory Mean To The Labor Market and Manufacturing?

Dark factories are a stage in the industrial revolution, central to the desire for technological improvements to make human life more comfortable. But what impact will the desire have on manufacturing activities and the labor market?

The future is always in motion and difficult to see. Manufacturing has its future in a dark place. Many manufacturers are progressively pushing various initiatives in AI, additive manufacturing, and big data analytics past the pilot phase with about seven out of ten failings. But of late, there are many smart factories around the world that will serve as good models for successfully implementing industrial IoT solutions that offer a tangible operational and tangible impact.

Many manufacturing plants have dark factory features, but human power is still required in some places, such as parts removal in maintenance and inspection, which are a necessity. Even with the most significant automation, human power will always be adequately needed. This means that a fully automated factory is only temporary, i.e., in given shifts, because automated manufacturing in total darkness is only possible if there are no optical sensors used by the machines and no visual monitoring from control centers by people.

Finally, we can attest that automation and digital workflows are not goals and dreams to live by anymore; they are now requirements! Many organizations have made use of IoT devices for quite a considerable period in the path towards preserving revenue streams, even in an unprecedented period. The future is already with us, but only the savviest companies will bring the best out of it.