Editorial Feature

The Role of Fiber Optics in Industrial Automation Applications

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Industry 4.0 is just around the corner and the smart factory is emerging with the help of new technologies that are ushering in the fourth industrial revolution. Fiber optics will play a significant role in developing industry 4.0 as companies leverage its advanced methods of data transmission to implement automation into every corner of industry. As a result, companies will be more scalable and flexible, their processes will be more cost-effective, safety standards will be increased, and control over the entire supply chain will be augmented due to the use of big data.

Industry 4.0

The third industrial revolution was marked by the adoption of emerging computer technology and automation. The fourth industrial revolution will build on this, by leveraging the significant advancements in technology that have occurred since the third industrial revolution, with big data and machine learning being adopted to incorporate automation across all points of the supply chain.

When computers were first introduced into industry, it was disruptive because it was an entirely new technology. Now, at the dawn of industry 4.0, computer technology has advanced significantly and can communicate without barriers and make decisions without human input via artificial intelligence (AI). The use of this technology is again disrupting industry, and, therefore, bringing about the fourth industrial revolution.

The smart factory that operates with optimal efficiency and minimal human input is now becoming a reality, and automation is a significant part of this shift.

Automation in industry 4.0

In leveraging technological advances, industry now has the opportunity to automate all parts of its supply chain to operate at the highest levels of efficiency. For the full potential of automated systems to be realized, automation must be implemented as one cohesive system, rather than segmented solutions coordinating different parts of the industrial process. Information must be allowed to flow through all parts of the process.

Automation allows industry to no longer focus only on efficiency and profitability, it opens the door to enhancing flexibility, improving manufacturing processes, reducing errors, and improving quality.

Fiber optic technology is the backbone of automation in industry 4.0. It facilitates super-fast data sharing, allowing distinct segments of the business to be connected, data to be analyzed, and actions to be calculated and implemented without human oversight. Below, we discuss the use of fiber optics in industrial automation in detail.

How Fiber Optics are Promoting Industrial Automation

Huge volumes of data are produced every second from all units of the industrial supply chain. To connect this data, process it, and analyze it in real-time requires flexible and scalable IT infrastructures. Fiber optic networks are best positioned to provide these infrastructures. They communicate data via pulses of light, making them exceptionally fast. They do not generate electromagnetic noise in the same way that alternative systems do. In addition, fiber optic cables are light and flexible, allowing them to occupy far less space than other cable-supported networks.

The requirements of industrial automation systems are far more challenging than commercial networks. They demand networks that can withstand harsh environments, such as electromagnetic interference, extreme temperatures, and weather conditions, and, in some cases, they need to be installed in hazardous locations. Traditional copper conductors cannot be used confidently in such circumstances, whereas fiber-optic circuits can.

Fiber optics cables are highly reliable and have become common in industrial automation applications to ensure network failures are kept to a minimum. This also safeguards workers and avoids unscheduled production halts. The adoption of optical infrastructure has become widespread in industry. Recent years have seen industry leaders double their investments into fiber-optic networks.

As the establishment of 5G networks begins, this trend towards fiber optic networks will likely increase, generating a rapid expansion of the number of connected devices and facilitating the dawn of the smart factory. The benefits of 5G, including its extreme throughput (> 10 Gbit/s), low latency (≤ 1 ms), and high reliability (≥ 99.9%), will help strengthen industry 4.0 and accelerate its development.

These fiber optic-based networks are currently supporting the development and introduction of numerous smart technologies into industry, including mobile robots and autonomous vehicles. Research is also underway to leverage augmented reality applications for maintenance and virtual reality applications.

Without fiber-optic networks, these new technologies could not reliably be implemented within industry. These applications would push traditional networks to their limits, but with 4G, and now 5G technology, industrial applications are being offered unprecedented reliability, extreme throughput, and high reliability that are vital to creating the smart factory of industry 4.0.

Over the coming years, we will see fiber optics being even more widely adopted in industry along with the birth of smart factories worldwide. This shift in production and logistics will likely have a significant impact on other segments.

References and Further Reading

Gidlund, M., Lennvall, T. and Akerberg, J., 2017. Will 5G become yet another wireless technology for industrial automation?. 2017 IEEE International Conference on Industrial Technology (ICIT),. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/7915554

Sjödin, D., Parida, V., Leksell, M. and Petrovic, A., 2018. Smart Factory Implementation and Process Innovation. Research-Technology Management, 61(5), pp.22-31. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08956308.2018.1471277

What is Industry 4.0? Here's A Super Easy Explanation For Anyone. Bernard Marr. Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/09/02/what-is-industry-4-0-heres-a-super-easy-explanation-for-anyone/?sh=63da56439788

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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