Manufacturing and supply chain experts gathered last month to debate how large the gap is between what Industry 4.0 promises and the reality. Organised by HSO – a leading provider of innovative enterprise technology solutions, the firm’s Fabrizio Battaglia offers his thoughts on what was discussed.
There is little consensus about the current wave of innovative change impacting the manufacturing sector. Even the names used to describe the radical new model of manufacturing emerging today are the source of heated debate.
A variety of terms are in general currency: from the original German Industrie 4.0 to the English equivalent, Industry 4.0; the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and various subsets like Usine du Futur and smart manufacturing.
However, there is agreement both that these initiatives are impacting manufacturers and their customers significantly, and that ultimately, they are just as much about connecting with people as implementing new technology.
Part of this is about engaging more closely with the end customer. After all, it is the customer that sits at the centre of the value chain, and is both the focus and driver of this new manufacturing model.
Customer expectations are growing all the time. They expect to have access to the latest high-quality information, they expect change to be implemented quickly, and service to be efficient and low cost, and they expect the businesses they deal with to be using the advanced technology that many of them are using every day.
To support these growing expectation levels, manufacturers increasingly need to transform their businesses. They need to implement technology that allows them to deliver better service levels and enhanced competitive edge.
The ability to leverage this technology to engage with customers and connect with their needs, will therefore be crucial to manufacturers in the future.
Yet, connectivity, will also be key to the manufacturing future in a more literal way through connected manufacturing which is today helping to link together all the components of the chain – from the supplier to the production line, reseller or distributor, and finally end-user.
Again, the customer connection is key, enabling businesses to gather feedback about a product and use it to help shape the evolution both of the product itself and of the services associated with it.
Connectivity within the organisation is also critical. Any successful Industry 4.0 project will need a sponsor at the top of the business who has a vision of what the end-goal should be and how it needs to be delivered.
However, they will also need to reach out and start to assemble a team of talented people around them. That’s often challenging.
We increasingly hear the argument that Industry 4.0 will require a corresponding focus on ‘Talent 4.0’, making sure the right focus is put in place on talent development and talent management.
The rationale is to ensure staff keep abreast of all the latest developments and hone their skills to deliver the kind of digital capabilities manufacturers will increasingly be looking for in the future.
Ultimately though, technology has to provide the foundation, the core bedrock to all this – and that’s where enterprise resource planning (ERP) comes in.
ERP is core to the journey of any manufacturer, with an important role to play in connecting previously siloed departments within the business, in integrating relevant data stores, and in ensuring systems work together in harmony.
ERP is key then, but manufacturers also need to build on the platform to develop added components and to start connecting processes and bringing people together to collaborate and share information.
Once again, it’s all about building links – and it is further evidence of the importance of being connected and making connections in this new manufacturing age.