The manufacturing industry is well aware of the benefits Industry 4.0 technologies can offer. Connectivity, AI/ML, IoT, AR/VR and other technologies are available to provide data and streamline processes and improve manufacturing across diverse industry segments.
Yet whilst awareness is broad, uptake is less so. Industrial digitalisation in the UK can be London-centric, leaving regional manufacturing hubs further behind in the adoption of new technologies. The likes of Make UK and Innovate UK are making great strides in broadening adoption, but there is further to go.
Part of the challenge lies in regional skills gaps and talent shortages, with businesses outside of city hubs unable to realise the full benefits of Industry 4.0 technologies. There is a lot of incredible technology out there to integrate into manufacturing operations – but it is not always accessible. Regionally, there needs to be equal access to technology alongside abilities to upskill staff and train talent regionally.
How to start with Industry 4.0
While there are multiple technology choices and paths, as a first step it is very critical that manufacturers carry out a due diligence to understand opportunities for improvement, pain points and challenges in their operations. This process should necessarily include a Persona-based approach where in all business user communities comprising of front-line operators, supervisors, managers, and executives are included.
This will provide the basis for identifying the right areas for Industry 4.0 investments both in the short-term quick wins and the longer term strategy. Putting in that effort in the beginning will deliver benefits since digital modernisation and Industry 4.0 is not a one size fits all approach.
Integrating tech into day-to-day operations
As industry does continue to digitise, the question becomes how technology can be integrated into day-to-day operations. The reality is, digital strategy shouldn’t be separate from operational strategy. And staff on the manufacturing floor need to be bought into digital solutions – and indeed, shaping the conversation around the solutions deployed that will help them in their day-to-day work.
Adopting Industry 4.0 has the potential to benefit all aspects of a manufacturer’s operations spanning, Manufacturing Engineering, Production, Quality, Maintenance, Worker Safety, Sustainability, Warehousing, after market field Servicing. Ultimately, the technology can bring new products to market faster whilst enabling safer, more efficient, and lower-cost operations.
One of the early areas to start with enable access to data from their assets and operations accessible data. This provides much needed visibility to the people who need it. In a lot of cases, insights and analytics from that data can throw light on the status, any bottlenecks, and their underlying causes across the entire operations on a near-real time basis. There are going to be different requirements and viewpoints on data analysis; the key becomes making that information and insights readily available for staff across an organisation. Again, only by speaking with users to understand what they need to see will organisations be able to deliver a user interface that is practical for day-to-day work on the factory floor.
With the basics in place when it comes to data, manufacturers can build solutions on top that consolidate on this tech progression. Whether it is cloud computing and analytics, AI, or machine learning, more and more manufacturers globally are integrating solutions into their production facilities and throughout their operations. These ‘smart factories’ are equipped with advanced sensors, embedded software and robotics that collect and analyse data, allowing for better decision making.
For example, Hitachi Vantara’s Lumada Manufacturing Insights is a suite of IoT applications that help enterprises reduce unplanned downtime, predict asset failures, and manage asset performance, as they accelerate on their digitalisation journey. It magnifies a manufacturer’s knowledge by extracting data from industrial equipment and support systems to guide data-driven decision-making.
Digital twins have been making a huge mark on the world of manufacturing. For industrial and manufacturing operations digital twins are used in simulation, what-if scenarios, planning, and process optimisation. Digital twins can also be used to help train operators and engineers. Whether it’s being able to interact with and test digital scenarios, or manipulate environments to measure impact, staff can learn quickly and get to grips with a more accessible solution.
Various tools exist to shape manufacturing as part of this fourth industrial revolution. It’s simply a case of getting the right ones in use by the right people. Technologies continue to evolve, and providers are beginning to offer more verticalised solutions. Whilst adoption is not yet widespread, with partnerships and eco-systems we’re not far off seeing a mass adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies.
About the author
Dr. Phani Bhushan Sistu is a Vice President and IoT Solutions Lead for Hitachi Vantara. He is a recognised industry expert with nearly 30 years of consulting and research expertise in manufacturing, automation, and engineering. Before joining Hitachi Vantara, he was the CTO for Cognizant’s engineering and IoT practice and Tata Consultancy Services’ Innovation Lab for Engineering and Industrial Services. He earned his Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.