The advancement of information and communication technology (ICT) has brought a huge revolution in the manufacturing industry, which is coined as Industry 4.0. When we talk about Industry 4.0, we often end up discussing digital manufacturing, distributed manufacturing or collaborative manufacturing – all of these manufacturing paradigms leverage ICT to foster product quality and reduce turnaround time.
One of the key features in Industry 4.0, specifically in distributed manufacturing and collaborative manufacturing, is the communication across different units of a manufacturing process, e.g. product requirement analysis, product design, modelling, product manufacturing, etc. as well as across geographically dispersed manufacturing centres. Such communication is established through various ICT systems and one such system is software agent system.
A software agent or an agent is basically a software program that can perform a task on behalf of a person or a machine or another program. In the case of a manufacturing process, an agent can perform autonomous tasks as well as tasks in collaboration with other agents in addition to simply establishing the communication across manufacturing processes or manufacturing centres, and this makes them a vital part of Industry 4.0.
With the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI), agents can take intelligent decisions both autonomously and collaboratively; such agents are often referred as intelligent agents.