Industry 4.0 is Coming on Strong, and Analog Integration is a Major Beneficiary

Industry 4.0 is Coming on Strong, and Analog Integration is a Major Beneficiary

It was only a decade or two ago that many of the pundits and market forecasters were sure of one thing: "everything is going digital, so analog is obsolete and will wither away."

Well…we all know how that worked out. Yes, everything is going digital, but that has created a huge need for "analog" which we'll broadly define as sensors, signal conditioning, power management, and wired/wireless connectivity. Most of the data that needs to be captured, processed, analyzed, and manipulated comes from somewhere in the "real world"—and the results must often go back to that real world.

That's where analog is not only nice or handy, but absolutely indispensible. That's not just wishful thinking: it's the unavoidable laws of physics, and the realities of signals and interfaces.

Now there's another huge wave coming, known as Industry 4.0. It generally refers to implementation of artificial intelligence, big data, and the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in factories. Although there is no formal, official definition, many consider the predecessors of Industry 4.0 to be industrial revolution using water and steam power (1.0); the use of electric power, motors, and basic closed-loop control in industry (2.0); and the addition of computing power to industrial processes and control (3.0), see Figure 1.  

Industry 4.0 brings three major attributes:

  1. Reduces lost productivity and waste of time, materials, and product on factory floor
  2. Enables adaptive manufacturing, with reprogramming of the process on fly
  3. Upgrades basic sensors into smart sensors and allows reconfiguring of sensor for increased system robustness, including advanced diagnostics and the ability to anticipate problems.

Industry 4.0 is not about sensor accuracy in the traditional sense, as their performance is now more than sufficient for most applications. Instead, it's about having more inputs via intelligent sensors (which can analyze data locally and upload significant results), a smaller footprint, and lower power dissipation. The result is a more decentralized control topology as controllers shrink and can be located closer to the action on the factory floor.

While much of the IoT attention (and hype) has been focused on mass-market applications such as the smart home, the reality is that Industry 4.0-related opportunity is at least equal, and likely higher, in industrial situations. The manufacturing transition to Industry 4.0 relies on enhanced, pervasive sensing, supported by numerous smaller, distributed controllers, and always-on connectivity.

Vendors who excel in classic analog/mixed-signal disciplines, and who can integrate those disciplines all the way through the signal chain to a connectivity endpoint (wired or wires), while supporting multiple protocols, will be the winners. They'll need to supply the complete package: ICs, reference designs, software tools, and connectivity standards to the many small, focused OEM vendors developing products for specific applications niches in industry, such as machinery monitoring/control, oil/gas drilling and pipelines management, commercial building energy management; and more.

This is why Maxim introduced the Pocket IO PLC development platform, which redefines how factories operate and enables Industry 4.0 applications. It provides real-time intelligence to quickly and effectively make decisions, adaptive manufacturing to avoid potential downtime, and distributed control to provide redundancy.

During this period of transition and even disruption, Maxim is playing a major role by creating new pathways to Industry 4.0. The key to Industry 4.0 is the complete analog signal chain from sensor to connectivity, which both enables and benefits from the Industrial Internet of Things. As a result, those vendors with a leading-edge comprehensive product mix, a solid set of customer tools and support, and industry insight will both drive and ride the wave.


1.       Maxim Application Note 5991, "Realizing Industry 4.0: Essential System Considerations