Industry 4.0 has become a hot word as business and industry become increasingly integrated with deep technology. However, Industry 4.0 covers a range of distinct concepts born out of corporate innovation, and understanding what these deep tech concepts are and how to apply them represents the key to success both for start-ups looking to take flight and existing businesses seeking growth. Digital twins and smart manufacturing are two deep tech concepts that might be just what’s needed to give a business an edge in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
What is deep tech?
In a few words, deep technology denotes the technology that results from corporate innovation paired with scientific research. Deep tech tools emerge from collaboration between businesses, tech companies, and researchers and aim to produce and/or apply meaningful discoveries and innovations that ultimately make the world a better place.
Deep tech tools include a whole gamut of technologies, from machine learning to biotech, blockchain, and big data analytics. Industries invest in deep tech not only to improve their own processes but also to effect change that will have global implications. Ventures in deep tech are a type of scientific entrepreneurship because they combine investment and innovation, using research to drive discovery and change the way things are done across a range of fields.
Digital twins and smart manufacturing: the basics
A digital twin is a technology that represents a physical object or system (i.e., a virtual ‘twin’ of the original object). Digital twins collect real-time data from the actual physical object or system as it functions through sensors. This data can then be used to perform simulations, troubleshoot, resolve problems, and improve the performance of the actual object.
Smart manufacturing is another form of deep technology whereby manufacturing processes and the entire value chain are optimised through the use of a range of deep tech tools, including automation, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning.
Why are these tools useful?
The insights gained from digital twins can be used to streamline decision-making processes, optimise an object or system’s performance, and make predictions or perform simulations under a given set of conditions. Thus, the use of a digital twin allows you to understand how a particular product or system is currently performing, how it would perform under certain circumstances, and what needs to be done to make its performance better. Having this information at your fingertips means that you can make informed decisions any time changes are made to your product or the tasks it is involved in.
Likewise, smart manufacturing can be used to optimise the manufacturing process and to maximise productivity and flexibility. Smart manufacturing also incorporates sensors to collect data across the manufacturing system, and this data is fed into a network of deep tech tools that optimise processes as well as react to any changes in real-time. The entire process is therefore integrated, automated, and agile. The use of smart manufacturing tools has proven to be revolutionary across a number of industries and processes, from agriculture to the supply chain.
Accessing these tools: technology transfer and licensing
Scientific entrepreneurship involves taking risks and using your knowledge, skills, and audacity to innovate and craft a solution to a real-world problem. One of the key ways in which knowledge is accessed is through tech transfer and licensing.
What is tech transfer?
Tech transfer denotes the process by which knowledge and/or an innovation is developed first in a non-commercial context and then passed on to other individuals or companies to be incorporated into a product or service, often through licensing agreements.
Famous technology transfer examples include Google, numerous vaccinations, and fortified milk. Countless components that have been integrated into smart manufacturing also had their origins in the tech transfer environment.
Start-ups and tech transfer
Start-ups are often key in the tech transfer context. Start-up companies may be founded specifically for the purpose of licensing a technology that shows promise for a given application. While the intellectual property for the technology remains with the researchers, start-ups can apply the technology to propose solutions to a societal issue. At present, there are start-ups working on creating digital twin technologies to enhance the smart manufacturing processes in numerous industries, from construction to rail transport to healthcare.
Start-ups can be shaped by a number of factors, but approaches like Lean Launchpad can help to ensure that a start-up is oriented towards success by having a clear vision of what purpose its product or service fulfils, and being prepared to pivot when faced with obstacles or changes.
What is Lean Launchpad? It’s an eight-week course developed by Steven Blank, a lecturer at Stanford University. The course involves developing a business concept and model that is market-ready within the timeframe of eight weeks.
Rather than starting a new venture from scratch through a start-up, existing companies can also create a spinoff – that is, a new company that is a separate entity created by an existing company rather than an individual entrepreneur – to license knowledge for a new purpose related to the company’s mission or current work.
Corporate innovation and the use of deep tech are fundamental to breaking into the market and continuing the growth of a business. Industry 4.0 hinges on the emergence and successful application of new technologies not only to save on costs and yield profits for businesses, but also to address increasingly pressing global issues such as climate change, healthcare and sustainability. Deep tech tools like digital twins and the optimisation of industries through smart manufacturing are a step toward making the world a better place, one process at a time.