The rise of new digital technology represents the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing, Industry 4.0 (i4.0). Focusing on data-driven manufacturing, i4.0 technology brings many advantages such as 360 degree visibility of the entire factory and the ability to convert physical data to digital data so that you can share and analyze it. With i4.0, you can significantly reduce bottlenecks, and increase supply chain flexibility and customer satisfaction.
The truth is no manufacturer can afford to ignore i4.0 anymore: Upgrading to i4.0 will yield an estimated average efficiency increase of 18% alongside a 13.8% drop in costs over the next five years. And, as Ran Poliakine of the Forbes business development council recently stated: “By investing in technology that better connects people, systems and machines, manufacturers can become more efficient, agile and collaborative than ever before.”
Many manufacturers rely on legacy systems, which can be made i4.0 compatible, in fact i4.0 tech may actually extend the lifetime of legacy equipment. But as you may have realized, before implementing a change, assessing your factory’s needs, readiness, and the state of legacy and IT infrastructure, as well as your strategic objectives is the critical first step.
If you’re new to the world of i4.0, you might not have all the information necessary to guide you in the assessment process. But where should you start and is your business Industry 4.0 ready?
Five Elements to Consider Before Implementing I4.0
To help you assess your factory’s readiness for i4.0, there are five things you need to consider:
1. Do you need to replace existing infrastructure?
Are you looking to replace your machines and IT infrastructure or do you want to transition to Industry 4.0 without having to implement new IT systems? Many legacy systems can be retrofit with i4.0 technology, quickly and easily, avoiding the need to replace machinery, the ERP or any other system.
For example, IoT sensors, which collect data on a given environment (e.g. the vibration rate of a machine) can be placed on any machine, new or old. You’ll need to combine communication systems to transmit that data with software to collect and integrate it with your existing IT databases. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the cloud or on prem, you’ll have dashboards on which to display your data and analytics to optimize it, which can be deployed throughout your factory without replacing existing infrastructure.
2. Do you Have Sufficient Financial Resources?
Implementing i4.0 will save you money by boosting production and lowering costs. But, like with any other investment, you’ll need to spend money to make money. Ultimately, there’s no point investing time, money and manpower integrating your factory to i4.0 if the returns are not projected to be much greater than the investment. Do you have the right data to calculate the ROI?
3. Human Resources – Do You Have the Right Manpower?
I4.0 is about people no less than about machines and processes. Assessing the skills needed and the training necessary for implementing i4.0 is no less important than assessing financial readiness and which machines and systems to upgrade.
However, many manufacturing executives might not have the technical skills and knowledge to supervise the orchestration of i4.0. Your employees may also be lacking the required skill set to implement the changes and new technologies. Can your workers be trained to operate upgraded machinery? How long will this take and how much will it cost? Do you need to maintain an in-house IT team, or can IT be carried out by an external? Can you shift the workload to the OT team instead? More questions along these lines will need to be addressed.
4. Do Current Solutions Meet Your Needs?
This is a key question – do current solutions on the market meet your needs or do they require additional development to fit your factory? Are you getting lost in all the tech-speak and jargon, and plethora of different platforms when all you really care about is your bottom line?
Choosing the right solution for your business might be daunting. Many solutions are pricey, involve long implementation times and are not tailored to your factory’s needs and capabilities. Sadly, too many manufacturers assume that paying top dollar to a ‘premium’ company is the best decision. It is more important to find the right people who will work with you to test and trial optimizations until your goals are met.
5. Can you Measure the Benefit to the Customer?
When considering whether to implement i4.0, ask yourself which optimizations will benefit your customers most. Many customers demand fast delivery, visibility of the production and shipment processes, while others may ask for greater flexibility in production, to facilitate custom orders.
Or, you may determine that your customers will benefit from optimized inventory control or predictive maintenance of machines, to reduce downtime and speed processing of orders. All this and more can be accomplished with i4.0, and will ultimately benefit both you and your customers.
Smart Manufacturers are Running Smart Factories
Smart factories powered by i4.0 technology are the future of manufacturing. They’re fully connected and flexible, integrate data from the shop floor and all mission critical systems for optimal inventory control, predictive maintenance, on time delivery, full visibility and more.
The smart factory gives you access to high-quality, integrated real-time and historical data, for informed, actionable decision making. The result is better OEE, enhanced employee and customer satisfaction, and higher profits.