Industry 4.0: What Manufacturing Looks Like in the Digital Era
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Industry 4.0: What Manufacturing Looks Like in the Digital Era

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The following content is sponsored by ASE Global

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Industry 4.0: What Manufacturing Looks Like in the Digital Era

It might sound futuristic, but the Fourth Industrial Revolution—also known as Industry 4.0—has already begun.

Following the Industrial Revolution’s steam power, electrification in the 1800s, and the Digital Revolution of the late 20th century, Industry 4.0’s innovative smart technology is unlocking the next steps in automation.

So what does the next major evolution of manufacturing look like? This graphic from ASE Global breaks down the rollout of Industry 4.0, from increased robotization to lights-out manufacturing.

The Basics of Industry 4.0

Each industrial revolution has built on what came before, incorporating new technologies and knowledge of manufacturing. Industry 4.0 has four core principles paving the way:

  1. Interconnection: Machines, devices, sensors, and people in the manufacturing process all connecting and communicating with each other.
  2. Information transparency: Comprehensive data and information being collected from all points in the manufacturing process, allowing for more informed decisions.
  3. Technical assistance: Improved technological facility of systems assisting humans in decision-making, problem-solving, and difficult or unsafe tasks.
  4. Decentralized decisions: Cyber physical systems that are able to make decisions on their own and perform tasks autonomously.

Combining these principles is what makes the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution unique. Much of the underlying technology has been available for decades, including robotics and networks, but properly using them together unlocks a massive stride in manufacturing capabilities.

Already, the market size for Industry 4.0 specific technology was estimated to be $116.1 billion in 2021. By 2028, it’s projected to grow almost three times to $337.1 billion, with core components leading the way.

Industry 4.0 TechnologiesComponents
Cyber physical systemsMachines (computer systems) controlled by algorithms.
Internet of things (IoT)Network of machines exchanging data.
On-demand availabilityComputer system resources that are able to be utilized at any time.
Cognitive computingSystems with artificial intelligence that adapt, iterate, and improve over time.

These technologies are already being rolled out in smart factories around the globe, and the most robust and up-to-date versions are being used to unlock the next evolution: lights-out manufacturing.

What is Lights-Out Manufacturing?

Where traditional factories and even smart factories require some direct human interaction, true lights-out factories operate completely autonomously.

Though it might sound like a dream, lights-out factories are fully automated, 24/7 factories with no on-floor human presence. And they already exist in the modern world.

Japanese robotics designer FANUC has been using robots to build themselves in a lights-out factory for 20 years, and even electronics company Philips uses 128 robots in a lights-out manufacturing line to produce electric razors.

One industry that uses lights-out manufacturing extensively is semiconductor manufacturing. ASE Global, the world’s leading provider of semiconductor manufacturing services in assembly and test, used 18 completely automated factories in 2020 alone.

Unlocking Lights-Out Factories

Different businesses and industries will be able to utilize Industry 4.0 technologies in different capacities, and lights-out manufacturing is no different.

Though incorporating fully autonomous factories can unlock huge potential, there are also significant challenges to first overcome.

Effects of Lights-Out FactoriesOpportunity UnlockedChallenge to Unlocking
CostSavings on material, inventory and management costs.Implementation requires purchasing machines, setting up the line, and working out early issues.
EfficiencyProducts can be made more quickly and accurately with trained machines.Significant changes to manufacturing (different products or setup) need to be made by humans.
ScaleOperations can continue uninterrupted for days or even weeks at a time.Full utilization requires a large volume of products, usually interchangeable or modular.
StaffWorkers can be upskilled and better utilized outside of the factory floor, resulting in better wages and time management, and a safer working environment. Skilled workers are needed to implement the factory, and they need to be continuously trained to keep up-to-date with improving technology. 

Which industries will implement lights-out manufacturing? New robot installations in 2019 show that the automotive, electronics, and metal and machinery sectors are unsurprisingly leading the way in Industry 4.0 implementation.

The Industry 4.0 Snowball Rollout

As 4.0 technology improves and costs decrease, the implementation of lights-out capabilities is expected to surge.

A global survey of businesses for their 2025 production plans show that 17% are anticipating having completely lights-out manufacturing, while 79% of manufacturing will be human-driven but digitally-augmented to some degree.

And like other industrial revolutions before, the technological rollout quickly creates a snowball effect that speeds its growth:

  • Demand increases for cyber physical systems and smart machines.
  • The supply of smart-capable machines with semiconductors increases.
  • Bigger and more robust networks of machines are assembled.
  • Improved capabilities further increase demand.

Many industries are capable of benefiting from 5G, IoT, and more robust usage of data and machines in some way. The question of when your sector will see Industry 4.0 is either sooner than you think, or it has already begun.

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Ranked: Emissions per Capita of the Top 30 U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities

Roughly 25% of all GHG emissions come from electricity production. See how the top 30 IOUs rank by emissions per capita.

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Emissions per Capita of the Top 30 U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities

Approximately 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from electricity generation.

Subsequently, this means investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will have a crucial role to play around carbon reduction initiatives. This is particularly true for the top 30 IOUs, where almost 75% of utility customers get their electricity from.

This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council ranks the largest IOUs by emissions per capita. By accounting for the varying customer bases they serve, we get a more accurate look at their green energy practices. Here’s how they line up.

Per Capita Rankings

The emissions per capita rankings for the top 30 investor-owned utilities have large disparities from one another.

Totals range from a high of 25.8 tons of CO2 per customer annually to a low of 0.5 tons.

UtilityEmissions Per Capita (CO2 tons per year)Total Emissions (M)
TransAlta25.816.3
Vistra22.497.0
OGE Energy21.518.2
AES Corporation19.849.9
Southern Company18.077.8
Evergy14.623.6
Alliant Energy14.414.1
DTE Energy14.229.0
Berkshire Hathaway Energy14.057.2
Entergy13.840.5
WEC Energy13.522.2
Ameren12.831.6
Duke Energy12.096.6
Xcel Energy11.943.3
Dominion Energy11.037.8
Emera11.016.6
PNM Resources10.55.6
PPL Corporation10.428.7
American Electric Power9.250.9
Consumers Energy8.716.1
NRG Energy8.229.8
Florida Power and Light8.041.0
Portland General Electric7.66.9
Fortis Inc.6.112.6
Avangrid5.111.6
PSEG3.99.0
Exelon3.834.0
Consolidated Edison1.66.3
Pacific Gas and Electric0.52.6
Next Era Energy Resources01.1

PNM Resources data is from 2019, all other data is as of 2020

Let’s start by looking at the higher scoring IOUs.

TransAlta

TransAlta emits 25.8 tons of CO2 emissions per customer, the largest of any utility on a per capita basis. Altogether, the company’s 630,000 customers emit 16.3 million metric tons. On a recent earnings call, its management discussed clear intent to phase out coal and grow their renewables mix by doubling their renewables fleet. And so far it appears they’ve been making good on their promise, having shut down the Canadian Highvale coal mine recently.

Vistra

Vistra had the highest total emissions at 97 million tons of CO2 per year and is almost exclusively a coal and gas generator. However, the company announced plans for 60% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2030 and is striving to be carbon neutral by 2050. As the highest total emitter, this transition would make a noticeable impact on total utility emissions if successful.

Currently, based on their 4.3 million customers, Vistra sees per capita emissions of 22.4 tons a year. The utility is a key electricity provider for Texas, ad here’s how their electricity mix compares to that of the state as a whole:

Energy SourceVistraState of Texas
Gas63%52%
Coal29%15%
Nuclear6%9%
Renewables1%24%
Oil1%0%

Despite their ambitious green energy pledges, for now only 1% of Vistra’s electricity comes from renewables compared to 24% for Texas, where wind energy is prospering.

Based on those scores, the average customer from some of the highest emitting utility groups emit about the same as a customer from each of the bottom seven, who clearly have greener energy practices. Let’s take a closer look at emissions for some of the bottom scoring entities.

Utilities With The Greenest Energy Practices

Groups with the lowest carbon emission scores are in many ways leaders on the path towards a greener future.

Exelon

Exelon emits only 3.8 tons of CO2 emissions per capita annually and is one of the top clean power generators across the Americas. In the last decade they’ve reduced their GHG emissions by 18 million metric tons, and have recently teamed up with the state of Illinois through the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Through this, Exelon will receive $700 million in subsidies as it phases out coal and gas plants to meet 2030 and 2045 targets.

Consolidated Edison

Consolidated Edison serves nearly 4 million customers with a large chunk coming from New York state. Altogether, they emit 1.6 tons of CO2 emissions per capita from their electricity generation.

The utility group is making notable strides towards a sustainable future by expanding its renewable projects and testing higher capacity limits. In addition, they are often praised for their financial management and carry the title of dividend aristocrat, having increased their dividend for 47 years and counting. In fact, this is the longest out of any utility company in the S&P 500.

A Sustainable Tomorrow

Altogether, utilities will have a pivotal role to play in decarbonization efforts. This is particularly true for the top 30 U.S. IOUs, who serve millions of Americans.

Ultimately, this means a unique moment for utilities is emerging. As the transition toward cleaner energy continues and various groups push to achieve their goals, all eyes will be on utilities to deliver.

The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource to learn how utilities can lead in the path towards decarbonization.

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The Road to Decarbonization: How Asphalt is Affecting the Planet

The U.S. alone generates ∼12 million tons of asphalt shingles tear-off waste and installation scrap every year and more than 90% of it is dumped into landfills.

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Road to Decarbonization - How Asphalt is Affecting the Planet

The Road to Decarbonization: How Asphalt is Affecting the Planet

Asphalt, also known as bitumen, has various applications in the modern economy, with annual demand reaching 110 million tons globally.

Until the 20th century, natural asphalt made from decomposed plants accounted for the majority of asphalt production. Today, most asphalt is refined from crude oil.

This graphic, sponsored by Northstar Clean Technologies, shows how new technologies to reuse and recycle asphalt can help protect the environment.

The Impact of Climate Change

Pollution from vehicles is expected to decline as electric vehicles replace internal combustion engines.

But pollution from asphalt could actually increase in the next decades because of rising temperatures in some parts of the Earth. When subjected to extreme temperatures, asphalt releases harmful greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere.

Emissions from Road Construction (Source) CO2 equivalent (%)
Asphalt 28%
Concrete18%
Excavators and Haulers16%
Trucks13%
Crushing Plant 10%
Galvanized Steel 6%
Reinforced Steel6%
Plastic Piping 2%
Geotextile1%

Asphalt paved surfaces and roofs make up approximately 45% and 20% of surfaces in U.S. cities, respectively. Furthermore, 75% of single-family detached homes in Canada and the U.S. have asphalt shingles on their roofs.

Reducing the Environmental Impact of Asphalt

Similar to roads, asphalt shingles have oil as the primary component, which is especially harmful to the environment.

Shingles do not decompose or biodegrade. The U.S. alone generates ∼12 million tons of asphalt shingles tear-off waste and installation scrap every year and more than 90% of it is dumped into landfills, the equivalent of 20 million barrels of oil.

But most of it can be reused, rather than taking up valuable landfill space.

Using technology, the primary components in shingles can be repurposed into liquid asphalt, aggregate, and fiber, for use in road construction, embankments, and new shingles.

Providing the construction industry with clean, sustainable processing solutions is also a big business opportunity. Canada alone is a $1.3 billion market for recovering and reprocessing shingles.

Northstar Clean Technologies is the only public company that repurposes 99% of asphalt shingles components that otherwise go to landfills.

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