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  • Writer's pictureKaronn Blue, P.E., PMP

What is Industry 4.0....and why should Plant Managers care.

Industry 4.0 describes a new phase of industrial evolution that focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, data analytics, and machine learning to drive costs lower, increase revenue, and improve quality within manufacturing. Beginning with water and steam power for propulsion and now to computers controlling most areas of manufacturing, Industry 4.0 represents enhancing systems to allow for better collaboration and access across people, departments, partners, and vendors.

The technological shifts occurring within manufacturing are real and offer tremendous value to organizations if integrated appropriately. Machines can now communicate with each other requiring little or no human involvement, thus making “smart factories” a reality. Software enabled machines aka “smart machines” will continue getting smarter as they gain access to more data.

So, why does your company need to know the importance of Industry 4.0? In short, creating a culture that leverages technology to continuously improve is hard work, takes considerable time, and requires a well-crafted executable strategy.  Each company will require a different approach and there is definitely no one size fits all strategy. If you delay in casting the vision for your facilities, it will almost guarantee that your competitors will gain a leg up on you. However, there are a few high-level tactics that can be adopted to get you started.

  1. Start with the problem and clearly define the ROI “AND” behavioral changes that are expected from your teams. All efforts to transform your facilities must provide tangible value. Being crystal clear about the problem you are solving will be a beacon light for everyone involved in accomplishing the mission. Understanding the ROI also helps your team prioritize the biggest opportunities to tackle.

  2. Be prepared to clean the data. An enormous amount of data can be collected and analyzed by software and smart machines, but this data must be carefully scrubbed to leverage advanced analytical techniques. Once cleansed and organized, you are well on your way to identifying areas for improvement within your operations.

  3. Develop a cloud strategy. The Internet of Things and the utilization of the Cloud for data storage and analytics allows for increased computing and computation, but at a significantly lower cost. Strategically use this lever to help your organization scale.

  4. Enhance logistics and supply chains. An interconnected manufacturing facility can easily adjust to supply changes. For example, if weather causes a shipment to be delayed, the system can adjust and modify work-flows. Also, real-time tracking of deliveries can provide key information needed to plan for equipment downtime.

  5. Robots are more widely used as they have become more affordable and accessible. Not only can they distribute goods for shipping, but they also help reduce overall cost and utilize floor space more efficiently. Find a place for robotics because the ROI is there.

  6. 3D printing has come a long way. It has evolved from being primarily used to create models to the production of the final product. Look for areas where 3D printing makes sense in your operation.

Industry 4.0 is ever evolving and although overhauling existing processes can be a scary thought to some organizations, digital transformations should be seen as necessary for survival and growth. Not only will growth within the company occur, but staff will be free to take on other tasks that supports their personal goals.

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