Over the past couple of years "Industry 4.0" has seemed to be the hot topic across all manufacturing industries from conferences to exhibitions to trade magazine articles. For me it was the primary ‘buzz word’ of 2018 and from what I understand, everyone has been made to feel like they need to embrace it and invest in it. Which is strange, because when I mention it to clients, I typically get the same response; “Industry four point oh, what’s that all about then?”
So, what is Industry 4.0?
In the first industrial revolution, thanks to James Watt, we welcomed steam and water power; then when Thomas Edison invented electricity we saw the introduction of powered assembly lines (think Henry Ford); with the advent of the CPU bought robots and automation into the production environment, so what’s next?
Some call it the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0, but whatever you call it, it represents the combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems. In a nutshell – Industry 4.0 signifies the use of smart autonomous machines, fuelled by data with the ability to act independently on the data it has received, interconnected by communication technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), and Internet of Services (IoS). I4.0 enables all entities involved within the value stream to communicate with each other and utilise data from the entire process flow without respect to borders among suppliers, manufacturers, customers, countries, etc.
The Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these things to connect, collect and exchange data.
The Internet of Services (IoS) is everything that is needed to use software applications, it is available as a service on the Internet, including the software itself, the tools to develop the software, and the platform (servers, storage and communication) to run the software.
Google ‘an Idiots Guide to Industry 4.0’ and you’ll probably get a better idea.
So what does Industry 4.0 mean for IFP?
Industry 4.0 is indeed a superb concept - switching to a digital factory, where equipment and people are seamlessly interconnected. Boosting productivity and efficiency, maximising capacity and increasing flexibility.
Manufacturers now have the ability to produce increasing volumes with greater variants in shorter lead times. All this without increasing resource.
This is great, if as a manufacturer you have access to an enormous budget and the ability to dedicate key members from your production teams to facilitate implementation and the transition. The trouble is when we talk about these fantastic ‘digital’ factories, you have to recognise that we live in good old Great Britain, and although back in the 18th Century we led the way with regards to industrial innovations and technologies, unfortunately there are far too many manufacturing SME’s that haven’t left the 2nd industrial revolution yet, working flat out to make quality products on ‘proven’ vintage machinery before shipping them out of the door.
Recently, I have seen people employed on a production line to purposely turn products on a conveyor through 90 degrees, and a manufacturer that collects next to nothing with regards to production data and is quite happy for their heavily manned production lines to run at less than an estimated 50% efficiency, whilst investing £m in increasing footprint to increase capacity. To these and the majority of UK manufacturers that we often work with implementing anything that could contribute towards Industry 4.0 is both daunting and frankly unrealistic.
As with any revolution, though, change at some point in time is inevitable. Retailers are only one step along the value chain and are demanding that manufacturers do more with less. To satisfy this pressing need to increase volumes without increasing costs, more and more manufacturers are turning to technology for help. Many SMEs will consider themselves too ‘small’ to implement Industry 4.0, but many of their larger customers –– may come to expect it in future.
Cynical moment warning.
Forget change management, that’s a whole different game. For the majority of clients, we work with, for me the answer is to take small steps and start by embracing the core of Industry 4.0: DATA. Without good data, Industry 4.0 simply doesn’t work.
It’s well within the capability of all SMEs to start gathering good data in order to measure and understand how their processes work and take steps to improve.
At the entry level, Industry 4.0 is well within the grasp of even the smallest manufacturer. By measuring data that they already generate, they can use the output to change and improve their manufacturing operation. Using metrics in this way helps manufacturers to make calculated decisions using good data, rather than their instinct.
By the way I know that electricity wasn’t ‘invented’. However I often wonder how our lives would be before the discovery of electricity…