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The digitalization revolution was brought about by the creation of technologies that integrate data gathered during physical processes. Those technologies can include Big Data, analytics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, wireless technology, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and drones, and virtual and augmented reality (see sidebox for explanations on where some of those technologies fit together). Different industries and industry segments deploy these technologies in different ways. The constantly evolving world of Industry 4.0 is difficult to track, but here are some examples of the possibilities for different end users of valves and related equipment:


Industry 4.0 technologies can monitor and automate many features of food and beverage production for increased efficiency and safety. Examples include:

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  • Highly selective sorting to reduce food waste and inventory holdings
  • Inspection equipment for easier detection and the separation of ever-smaller foreign particles
  • Monitoring of refrigerators and other temperature-controlled environments with automated alerts
  • Greater supply chain visibility for the traceability of ingredients, allowing for faster recalls.1

An e-book from SpecPage describes cyber-physical production systems (CPPSs), online networks of machines organized like social networks that are used in this industry and others. CPPSs link information technology with electronic and mechanical components to allow communication among devices via a network. This system offers the ability for a smart factory to react quickly to changes in stock levels, demand or defects.2

Monitoring capabilities and GPS location technology are used in the food and beverage world to enable tracking of deliveries and verifying the conditions to which products are exposed during transport, including temperatures and humidity levels. Such capabilities today not only benefit the food and beverage industry, but any business that depends on controlled storage and shipping conditions to maintain product quality.


A report from PWC says that even though this industry is known for its innovative technologies, the sector is well behind others when it comes to becoming digitally enabled, but that exceptions exist. For example, the report describes BP’s initiatives in developing Industry 4.0 capabilities such as running “digital boot camps” (online learning across the organization for topics such as advanced statistics and machine learning) and creating a 1-petabyte central “data lake” of global operations information available to company engineers.3

The upstream market already uses data analytics and 3D visualization as part of the exploration process. Some exploration and production companies are also experimenting with 4D models that integrate production data to follow changes in a reserve’s oil and gas levels.4 This would allow an understanding of the production potential and lifespan of each well.

Another area where technologies are advancing is oil rigs equipped with submersible pumps that lift oil to the surface. These pumps need periodic adjustment. According to a report from Cognizant, one oilfield services company remotely analyzes and optimizes the pumps’ function and can remotely adjust or recalibrate the pumps.5

An Internet of Things (IoT) approach to monitoring gathers pump information from sensors, analyzes it to determine which changes need to be made and programs the required adjustments remotely.


Though the pharma industry has long used batch processing, companies and regulatory agencies are moving toward continuous processing. [In batch manufacturing, all materials are loaded before the start of processing and discharged at the end of processing; in continuous manufacturing, material is simultaneously loaded and discharged from the process.]

A draft guidance document issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2019 provides FDA’s current thinking “on the quality considerations for continuous manufacturing of [certain] small molecule, solid oral drug products.”6 Continuous processing has been used in other industries for a long time and offers many benefits, including fewer steps, shorter processing times and a smaller footprint than batch processing.

Connected sensors, data collection and analysis, and control using artificial intelligence, which are all Industry 4.0 tools, will support and enable the shift to continuous processing. Also, because safety and quality in pharmaceuticals is a top priority, Industry 4.0 methods present the industry an ideal way to monitor and control the continuous processing, which helps to ensure that safety.

A report from McKinsey outlines the progression of digitalization in the testing of pharmaceuticals in the plant, ranging from digitally-enabled testing to automated processes and finally distributed quality control. The distributed approach automatically and continuously performs quality testing at locations on the production line. This supports AI/machine learning-enabled process and product control on a continuous production line.7


An F. E. Moran publication on power generation described ways that Industry 4.0 technologies can ensure power plants operate more effectively and safely.8 Using sensors and data analytics to benchmark and monitor equipment and processes allows adjustment or maintenance to be done before a failure causes an outage, the report says.

On the safety side, fixed gas detection sensors and employees equipped with personal gas detection devices connected via a plant’s network can send immediate notification to emergency responders giving the location and content of an incident. Emergency workers can home in on the problem directly. Plant staff and management receive alarms and messages instantaneously from the facility’s network.

Some electric grid IoT applications in distribution channels have been up and running for a while. Advanced electric metering, wirelessly connected, provides data that supports efficient operation and improved customer experience. For example, a Sensus study reports on a rural electric utility co-op in Wake Forest, NC that uses smart metering and voltage monitoring to improve customer service, streamline outage management and maximize asset life.9

Sensors on the system report data wirelessly, and analytics translate the data into useful action. Daily and even hourly usage data is available to both the utility and its customers. Customers with access to usage information can see the results of their energy conservation choices, such as replacing appliances or turning off lights in unoccupied rooms. The utility can use voltage monitoring and a transformer utilization utility to discover which transformers need replacement and which are not used to capacity as well as which have allowed replacement with less expensive, appropriately sized equipment. Finally, when an outage occurs, meters in this process send the condition directly to the utility’s outage management system, so customers need not report the outage, and repairs can begin quickly.


Water scarcity is common in some western states, including California. However, some water systems are taking steps enabled by sensors and connectivity to make the most of the water they have. Another Sensus case study reports how in Fountain Valley, CA, a small city once known for its high water table, the utilities department developed a plan to help conserve water.10 Installing smart meters at residential and commercial customers and connecting them via long-range radio network allowed data analysis for monitoring usage and discovering leakage. Restrictions on high users and rebates for conservation brought about a reduction in water use of 23%, exceeding the original goal of 20%.


These are only a handful of examples of how Industry 4.0 technologies can improve production, increase safety or enable conservation. As companies become more familiar with the technologies and develop applications and integrations for them, the potential gains are enormous.

BARBARA DONOHUE is web editor of VALVE Magazine. Reach her at


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Some Terms You Should Know

The list of terminology surrounding Industry 4.0 is growing at the same rapid rate applications and technologies are growing. Many of these terms are intertwined and sometimes confused with each other.

To begin with, there’s the difference between “Industry 4.0” and “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, the 4.0 designation actually refers to factories that have machines augmented with wireless connectivity and sensors whereas the revolution encompasses what’s happening across all types of businesses. The factory equipment involved in 4.0 is connected to a system that can visualize the entire production line and often make decisions on its own.

Under the Industry 4.0 umbrella are manufacturing technologies and processes including:

  • Cyber-physical Systems (CPS): mechanisms controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): IoT is a system of interrelated computing devices given unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human intervention. IIoT is IoT used in industrial applications through tools such as robotics and software-led production processes.
  • Cloud computing: the on-demand availability of computer system resources such as data storage and computing power without active management by the user.
  • Cognitive computing and artificial intelligence (AI): Cognitive computing describes technology platforms that allow the computer to learn through tools such as AI and use the knowledge to determine what might happen next.
  • Smart manufacturing and smart factories: Smart manufacturing is a technology-driven approach to production that uses some of these tools for connecting, communicating and taking action to identify ways to automate or improve, thereby creating smart factories.

All of these terms are interconnected. For example, Industry 4.0 fosters the smart factory. Within modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real-time both internally and across organizational services offered and used by participants of the value chain.