by • February 15, 2023
The world you live in today is nothing like the world 50 years ago. In fact, thanks to rapidly changing technology, even ten years ago things were very different. Now, the world is in the middle of Industry 4.0, and APIs are essential to most business software. How are APIs and Industry 4.0 related? In this article, you’ll learn more about these APIs and API integration and how they work together.
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APIs have quietly become a normal part of the everyday world. They connect microservices — tiny, one-purpose applications — and use them to create a larger system. Previously, companies used programs that weren’t compatible with others. All features were integrated, and if one part of the system went down, the whole thing was inoperable. Everything had to be updated or adjusted when one piece was replaced or updated.
With APIs, it’s possible to manage all this with microservices. Each one stands alone but uses APIs to connect with the others. The result is a full, working system with individual and independent parts. If one area must be changed or removed, it won’t affect the rest of the system. API integration is useful in keeping companies running and preventing data loss during upgrades. It also means less downtime for clients. What is Industry 4.0?
There have been multiple industrial revolutions, each bringing its own advancements and improved efficiency. Today, we’re in the fourth of these revolutions, called Industry 4.0. It’s an industrial revolution powered by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Cyber-physical systems are also a part of this revolution. They include smart systems that run independently and use computer-based algorithms to monitor and physically control things such as vehicles and machinery.
Most people are already familiar with the ideas of “smart” products. They’re products with computers that connect to other devices and management systems. They may even be interconnected.
Experts consider Industry 4.0 to have nine pillars. These include:
Big data is the vast amount of information collected by everything from traffic apps and weather apps to the Internet of Things (IoT) and factory machines. There’s a nonstop stream of data available every minute, which is used by artificial intelligence to improve automation worldwide. Every industry, from R&D to engineering and supply chain planning, benefits from big data. With so many microservices collecting and processing data, APIs are essential to connecting everything.
The cloud may seem mysterious, but it’s a big part of the new technologies in this latest industrial revolution. It’s not just for storing data these days. It’s now the foundation for some of the more advanced AI and machine learning platforms available. With cloud computing, it’s possible for companies to rapidly scale their business and reduce their costs, all while speeding up processes and improving software development on their cloud-based system.
In addition, the cloud collects information for the cyber-physical systems that help power Industry 4.0. All this is possible with cloud APIs, which enable communication and data connections in the cloud.
Having all this information and data online can pose a significant security risk, and companies must protect their data. Blockchain is a good way to prevent breaches and can be easily automated. It’s also important to avoid legacy systems, which can be unsafe and require predictive maintenance.
AR was introduced to the public via games like Pokemon Go, in which apps showed players the world around them with some enhancements. Essentially, digital content overlaps the real world, which can be fun in a game but has more practical purposes.
Through the use of smart glasses or a mobile device, people can easily check statistics, instructions, and training content simply by looking at a product. For example, you could look at a car engine through smart glasses and see parts overlaid with labels and maintenance instructions. Microservices can be added, with APIs connecting them, to add more versatility to the AR. New technologies like this have huge implications for the future.
Vertical integration means integrating all layers of a business. The data is available to those on the production line and the people in the offices upstairs. This can only improve operations in any industry as the new vertical options take over where silos were once common.
Horizontal integration refers to processes used across production facilities or a supply chain, usually with the help of microservices designed for each process, then connected with APIs. Rather than making the data available to everyone, it’s provided to those who need it most.
You may have noticed that 3D printing has expanded and become useful beyond making items at home. It was initially a way to turn out a quick prototype of a product, but now it can be used to create mass amounts of custom products. Design files for specific product parts are made available more frequently, so people can print them out where they need them. For example, hospitals can now print a valve for a respirator if they need one rather than order it and wait for the part to arrive in the mail.
Autonomous robots have been a sci-fi dream for years, but now they’re a reality. Of course, they can manage repetitive tasks, but now they can handle far more complex jobs. Adding AI, machine vision, sensors, APIs, and specialty software means robots can even make decisions based on what they perceive in their environment.
Creating a twin of a real-world product or system allows businesses to examine and understand the product virtually. This provides far more insight than the actual product because everything is recorded and collected for information.
Now that you better understand the impact Industry 4.0 has on the world and the businesses working with it, it’s time to look at how APIs play into this.
As you’ve seen, Industry 4.0 has dramatically impacted the world. APIs are also part of this, particularly REST APIs, which have become quite popular.
APIs are currently used for many reasons in Industry 4.0. For example:
Development acceleration: APIs provide developers with a quick and easy way to implement more complex features into their apps. They don’t even need to develop these features since they can use pre-made options.
Better customer experience: Customers expect their experience with any business to be quick and easy. It can be quite challenging to manage without APIs, but they make it simple to connect multiple functions to ensure your customers are happy and even impressed.
Accessibility: Thanks to APIs, every organization now has access to the top technologies available. This means companies can use features that would otherwise not be an option due to cost.
Scalability: With APIs, you can scale your business as much as you like, without breaking your budget. Unlike the previous monolith systems, API systems allow changing out or updating each microservice without needing to add onto or temporarily shut down the entire system.
There are many benefits, but some are still untested as the world continues to try new use cases and test API modules. More than one white paper has covered the advantages of using APIs to please both customers and stakeholders, reduce pricing, and improve production processes as well as manufacturing processes.
Businesses are already well accustomed to using APIs, and many have integrated elements of Industry 4.0. How will this change in the future? While it’s impossible to predict with 100% certainty, some definite trends indicate what the future will look like.
Digital twinning is likely to become a much more commonplace process in the average workflow. It allows companies to simulate what would happen if they made small changes to their production line, methods used on the shop floor, or products. The testing can be done without wasting time, money, or resources and provides an accurate representation of what could occur. This is far more commercially feasible than changing factory processes or making major changes to a product to see if it works.
Information technology is already blending with operational technology, creating more efficient, modular networks in manufacturing plants. While the current state of these networks isn’t very secure, that will change in the near future. As cybersecurity improves, more manufacturers will turn the wheel to digital options.
Another change likely to be significant is personalization. Consumers are demanding more tailored products, rapid delivery, and sustainable practices. This means data must be passed rapidly between the manufacturer’s ecosystem of suppliers and their manufacturing line to ensure products meet customer expectations.
Keeping track of supply chain management is part of the digital age, which makes it far simpler as long as the inputs are correct. Smart manufacturing is just one of the methodologies that will help improve the future of manufacturing.
Bit by bit, things are changing across the board. APIs are essential for ensuring Industry 4.0 continues to function and grow. Without these connectors, much of what you already do each day would be impossible. Everything from uploading data to the cloud to making purchases online involves systems that function specifically because of APIs.
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Terence Bennett, General Manager at DreamFactory, has a strong operational, business, and extensive experience in government IT systems and Google Cloud. He started his career as a U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer, then honed his skills on Google’s Red Team and later became the COO of Integrate.io.
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