This in itself may still be baffling, but it refers to the technological movement of our industries from the first mechanisation to today's smart factories. Said to have originated in Germany, Industry 4.0 was a strategy designed to incorporate new digital technologies into the industrial arena.
Over a decade later, it's evident that the world has been slow to adopt this strategy wholesale. A 2018 study by Deloitte found that approximately 80% of respondents were still not ready or prepared to address the new challenges - and the following years brought COVID-19. Apart from this disruption, there are several reasons why the transformation of the industrial landscape has been sluggish, and many of these have developed into myths about Industry 4.0. These myths can be summarised under the following headings:
Let's look at these one by one.
Debunking this myth is simple, and requires only an understanding of the flexibility and interoperability of digital systems. You can transform any organisation with technological tools, regardless of its size, provided you choose the right solutions. You can improve visibility, collaboration and efficiency on your factory floor, with some digital solutions being specifically tailored for SMEs. Technology doesn't only mean the control of complex systems, but can also include 3D printing, predictive maintenance and RFID tagging.
The World Economic Forum highlights the three key areas of Industry 4.0 as connectivity, intelligence, and flexible automation to achieve these goals:
Every time technology takes a step forward, the first releases are costly because of their innovation and rarity. Did you buy a flat-screen TV or smartphone when they first came out, only to find later versions released at a fraction of the price? However, many digital solutions are agile and can be integrated into existing systems, so they don't demand a large initial outlay. They will help you optimise processes, reduce cycle times and improve your overall efficiency.
Smaller businesses may incorporate a range of technological solutions according to their budget. These can be built up over time into integrated system improvements, with each piece of new technology potentially initiating its own operational advances. When you're saving costs and seeing revenue increase, you can reinvest in further technological solutions. This way you'll gradually transform your systems at your own pace and within your own budget.
As we've seen above, implementing connectivity and the IIoT doesn't need to mean high initial development costs or a complete system overhaul. Industry 4.0 isn't a single action that will revolutionise your manufacturing facilities at one fell stroke. Rather, it's a question of adding value to your existing processes by integrating different technologies that will work together. Whether you run a small workshop or a larger concern, you can upgrade one piece of technology at a time.
You might start improving transparency with IIoT devices and sensors, so you'll have an increased understanding of processes and how they can be improved. When that's up and delivering results, you can begin to integrate machine learning capacity, so that your collected data can be turned into insights. This might include agile planning solutions, which help you anticipate resource requirements and make the best use of materials, machines and people. From there, it's only a short step to a fully-fledged smart factory, as those insights then support an increase in your levels of automation.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is about devices with advanced capabilities communicating with each other, enhanced by artificial intelligence and machine learning. That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to throw out all your old hardware, as you could start with a hardware-independent solution such as process control software. This has the ability to function with different communication protocols via open interfaces, so you can continue using legacy systems while you figure out a smart manufacturing strategy.
You need to consider carefully what you might achieve by investing in new hardware, and, alternatively, whether you could improve processes by updating your existing system. Would collaborative robotics, for example, really enhance your manufacturing operations? The big bonus with robotics, like most technology, is that it continues to advance. Like TVs and smartphones, it gets better, cheaper and safer as time goes by.
This is one of the more curious myths about Industry 4.0. Perhaps it can be best understood as relating to a potential short-term dip that might follow a significant investment in technology. However, we've already seen that implementing more advanced technological solutions will improve your business efficiency and productivity. Continuing (even increased) levels of profit should therefore result.
People's thinking has also been influenced by recent history, since many companies have already seen profits sinking because of the pandemic. To some, adopting Industry 4.0 at such a time is a bad idea, but the opposite is actually the case. Some research shows that 94% of early Industry 4.0 adopters said these technologies were the reason they could keep their operations running during the pandemic. Over half of those surveyed reported that digital solutions were crucial to their crisis response. Continuing disruption and supply chain volatility mean that a transition for manufacturers is even more urgent.
Manufacturers must adopt Industry 4.0 solutions to improve their agility and efficiency, and many leading manufacturers are already moving to do so. There is also a demand that companies become more sustainable in response to climate change. Many businesses see this as a choice between the moral and economic good; that sustainability means less profitability. In many cases, the same principle applies as it does to the investment situation above. New technologies, especially in the field of energy-saving, will cut longer-term costs.
This is one of the biggest myths, and it's the one that causes people the most worry. They see automated planning and production putting millions of obsolete humans out of work. The irony is that progressive industrial revolutions have all been geared to do just this, increasing production capabilities and reducing human labour. But it's not intended to do away with it altogether.
What is inevitable is a change in the nature of industrial employment. By deploying digital technologies, the aim is to make human beings more effective. On the factory floor, IIoT integration with control panels and handheld devices makes it easier for operators and supervisors to monitor production flows. You can digitise analytics processes to automate maintenance schedules, so you won't have to plan it all manually. Incorporating predictive maintenance frees up scheduling and planning time, but the machines themselves will still have to be serviced by your staff. Meanwhile, design teams can deploy technologies such as virtual or augmented reality programs and digital twins.
We need to think of mechanical 'minds' working harmoniously with the human traits of empathy, subjectivity and creativity. This means that while repetitive tasks will decline, new jobs will be more diverse and challenging. Pre-pandemic World Economic Forum studies predicted the replacement of boring and taxing jobs by nearly twice as many new jobs in Industry 4.0 arenas. You'll see a greater emphasis on creativity, interpersonal communications skills and problem-solving.
In manufacturing, disappearing human tasks - like production line assembly, material handling and quality control - will be counterbalanced by more software and application development, data analysis and AI-related technologies. Experts are therefore looking at reskilling or 'upskilling' their workforce, rather than doing away with it altogether. This, in itself, will require personnel for training and human resource management.
The greater connectivity of Industry 4.0 technologies means that factories are no longer self-contained. Smart factories are part of a larger ecosystem, and many businesses are naturally afraid that this makes them more vulnerable. You'll anticipate unfamiliar security challenges and new operational risks. Cybercrime is on the rise, and manufacturers may increasingly be exposed to Denial of Service and ransomware attacks.
This makes cybersecurity an extremely important factor for manufacturers. Rigorous training for your staff is essential when you begin to implement connected technologies. However, much clearer guidance is now available as to how you can protect your facilities from malicious attacks as well as accidental data losses.
At this stage, while the pandemic and other factors affect the world economy, a significant number of businesses have still not adopted Industry 4.0. This may reflect a survival of common myths in many people's minds, but smart manufacturing is certainly not as expensive, exclusive or dangerous as you may have been led to believe.
This article was originally published at: 7 Industry 4.0 Myths Debunked