Electronics needed

Fitted out with sensors, processors and communication modules, machines, lines and workpieces become “smart”. They record processes in the physical world, connect them to the virtual world of the Internet and so provide the basis for Industry 4.0.

State-of-the-art electronic and micro-electronic components and systems are essential to Industry 4.0. Today, already around 90 percent of all industrial manufacturing processes are automated with the aid of information and communications technology. Industry 4.0 will entail even greater integration of those technologies into manufacturing: micro-electronic systems are being implemented more and more in machines, robots, equipment and workpieces. They are fitted out according to their function with sensors, microcontrollers and power electronics, representing so-to-speak the senses, brains and muscles of the intelligent systems. When additionally equipped with wireless communications interfaces and unique identifiers, the systems in question are able to interconnect with other systems along the value chain – forming the basis for cyber-physical systems (CPS).

High demands on semiconductors

Electronic components for industrial applications must meet a variety of requirements, however: Key factors are attributes such as robustness, weight, volume, and above all price. The microchips fitted in such systems must be as small and cost-effective as possible, while delivering high performance, to enable them to be implemented in the necessary large numbers within the value chain.
Developments in the chips needed for this have been driven in recent years primarily by “Moore’s law”, which states that chip processing power doubles every two years. This continual improvement in performance, termed “More Moore”, is leading to ever smaller micro-electronic components. The “More-than-Moore” concept being pursued by increasing numbers of chip manufacturers adopts a different approach: it involves integrating more and more functionality into an existing form factor – complementing the integrated processors with functions such as analogue and passive devices, sensors and biochips. The development of such customer-oriented solutions for specific user sectors permits the use of older micro-electronic components and process technologies. As a result, the level of investment needed is much lower.

More cost-effective, more efficient, more powerful

Chips of this kind offer enhanced performance and reliability allied to higher energy efficiency and lower manufacturing cost – key prerequisites for their widespread application in the Smart Factory and thus for the success of Industry 4.0. Because only if the factories of the future can be extensively upgraded and fitted out with CPS – based on state-of-the-art micro-electronics – will it be possible to achieve the efficiency and resource benefits expected from Industry 4.0.

(picture credits: Shutterstock)

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