Thales and the factory of the future

Thales is taking part in Laval Virtual 2017, focusing on what virtual technologies can do for the industry of tomorrow. Laval Virtual is one of Europe's most important showcases for innovation and new technologies, and this year's event is a chance to catch up with the major transformations underway as digital technologies gain traction in the world of industry. Thales has a lot to offer to help organisations embrace the next industrial revolution. This year's Laval Virtual is taking place at the same time as the Industry Week   organised by the French ministry of the economy, where Thales is also playing an active role.
Smart factories can adapt manufacturing processes as needed, produce better products at lower cost and operate more responsibly — that's the promise of Industry 4.0, a term coined by researchers in Germany in 2011. In constant communication with customers, production lines, workers, suppliers and the local ecosystem, the factory of the future is seen by some as a response to the economic, technological, organisational, environmental and societal challenges of the 21st century.
 (source: DFKI) After mechanisation, mass production and automation, industry is undergoing its fourth revolution
(source: DFKI) After mechanisation, mass production and automation, industry is undergoing its fourth revolution
According to a survey by PwC[1] , industrial sectors are planning to commit more than 900 billion dollars a year to their digital transformation. Most of the investment will go on digital technologies like sensors or connectivity devices, manufacturing execution systems, data analytics, horizontal communication and collaboration platforms, augmented reality and advanced production and logistics management techniques.


Big Data as the driver of the digital transformation of industry

This fourth industrial revolution relies on integrated web technologies and interconnected production systems. It will make industries more agile and quicker to respond to changing demand, but above all it will create a market for new products and services based on analytics — smart analysis of the data gathered by the thousands of sensors, systems and objects making up the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Many companies already collect the data. The next step is to analyse and exploit these growing volumes of information to meet the needs of customers and optimise interaction with partners along the value chain.

Big Data is a key ingredient of the industry of the future. Using Big Data technologies, it is possible to identify, on a case-by-case basis, the digital building blocks required to improve industrial processes (starting with predictive maintenance) and better meet the needs of customers.


Open and collaborative

Digital technologies hugely expand opportunities for people at one location — or at different locations and different companies — to communicate, exchange information and work together. They allow people to communicate with machines, and they let machines communicate with other machines. To improve processes and boost operator performance, the industry of the future is investing in new collaborative platforms and areas such as serious games, augmented reality, virtual reality and cobotics (robotic systems that can work safely alongside humans).

Virtual reality (VR) techniques are especially relevant for training, in particular to teach operators to work with highly sophisticated equipment or in critical installations. VR creates an immersive environment where operators can learn complex procedures with minimum risk and at optimum cost.

Augmented reality (AR) injects virtual elements and 3D objects into real situations, enabling operators to look at what already exists and see exactly what needs to be done. The industrial applications are almost limitless, ranging from equipment operation to assembly and maintenance. And AR has enormous potential for improving operational processes, with benefits including shorter procedure times, context-sensitive help, real-time traceability, and remote assistance from experts.


The critical importance of cybersecurity

There is no denying the allure of more competitive, more productive industries that are in constant contact with their customers and ecosystems and can easily reconfigure the value chain to stay ahead of changing markets and technologies. It's not only an attractive proposition but the key to our future prosperity. However, there are risks attached. As they transition from the self-contained operations of past industrial models to the connected future of Industry 4.0, companies are opening up systems that are intrinsically insecure. They could be exposing themselves to significant risks, not only for the confidentiality and integrity of their data (trade secrets, intellectual property, etc.) but also for the safety and security of critical installations and the people who work there.

Cybersecurity is therefore of paramount importance and industries need to put in place effective measures to prevent their data from being compromised and make sure that nobody can take control of their production systems by hacking into the network.
[1]  "Industry 4.0 : Building the Digital Enterprise": Conducted between November 2015 and January 2016, PwC’s 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey is the biggest worldwide survey of its kind, with over 2,000 participants from 26 countries and nine major industrial sectors: manufacturing, engineering & construction, chemicals, electronics, transportation & logistics, automotive, metals, paper & packaging, and aerospace, defence & security.

THE THALES ADVANTAGE

To allow industry to benefit from the most innovative technologies, Thales offers a complete range of solutions and services to support the secure end-to-end digital transformation (data and networks) of production systems. Our solutions encompass data acquisition directly on the shop floor (via secure IIoT solutions), data processing and display at human-machine interface level, secure cloud storage and Big Data analytics. With this full range of capabilities, Thales is helping to improve industrial processes by integrating leading-edge technologies that are "Secure by Design".

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