Manufacturers shouldn’t let fear of change stifle smart technology adoption

Posted on 4 Oct 2023 by The Manufacturer

The fourth industrial 'revolution', may sound like an immediate shift or transformation, but Industry 4.0 began life in the 1990s, so why did it take the Covid-19 pandemic – 30 years later – to significantly boost its adoption?

According to the Manufacturing Digital Productivity Report from iBASEt, supported by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), many manufacturing organisations (67%) implemented Industry 4.0 and smart factory technologies in response to the pandemic and social distancing rules – with 30% doing so for the first time. More than two-thirds (68%) said this made them more productive, and more than half (51%) said it made their business more agile.

Manufacturers have experienced the perfect storm of challenges over the past two years. Spiralling energy and raw material costs have been exacerbated by a skills shortage caused by Covid’s great resignation. Pressure on manufacturers is as high as ever, and they are proving they’re more than up to the challenge!

We have seen a positive trend of manufacturers turning to productivity-boosting ‘smart factory’ technologies to help them offset these challenges. However, there remains a small cohort who are reluctant to give smart factory tech a go.

This reluctance is typically driven by a fear of ‘change’, ‘risk of failure’ and ‘the unknown’. Often, it simply comes down to the fact that, for many manufacturers, starting a factory digitisation project brings with it a host of questions, fears and uncertainties that can stall and even prevent them from starting a digitisation project.

As a company providing technology for manufacturers, our role is to educate and inform the market so manufacturers are more confident and comfortable when starting a digitisation project. The key to embracing manufacturing technologies is to understand the problem you are looking to overcome. Every business decision – particularly those with a direct financial implication – needs to be made based on a desired outcome that achieves a business objective. It needs to start with a destination in mind.

All too often the technology is considered first: “Let’s create a fully digitised smart factory”. But there may be ‘hidden’ or ‘smaller’ perceived issues within the factory that could be effectively addressed through technology that would have an immediate impact on removing process inefficiencies and therefore increasing productivity and profitability.

For example, manual, time-consuming tasks can be automated to free up human resources to focus on more rewarding work. Machine data monitoring software such as FourJaw is specifically designed to enable manufacturers of any size, to increase productivity by identifying the top causes of downtime, providing actionable insight to focus continuous improvement efforts on areas that will have the biggest impact.  This data means manufacturers can do more work, more profitably with the same resources.

Fear of change and the concerns around adopting new technologies in particular, are often due to the perceived cost of the new system, the disruption it may cause in the short term, and the impact it will have on employees.

How much more productive could you be with the right technology?

A survey by MakeUK stated that 74% of manufacturers say that improving productivity is the reason behind an investment with 70% pointing to return on investment as another factor. Industry 4.0 or smart technology should be part of a continuous improvement programme, with the aim of seeing measurable results quickly.

Low-cost/low-risk technologies allow you to start small and they can be gradually introduced into the manufacturing process. These technologies, such as machine data monitoring, that capture productivity and energy usage data will deliver real gains, quickly and efficiently.

For example, our five most recent customers achieved a 17% increase in productivity in just four weeks after implementing our platform. Smart technologies like this can provide manufacturers with an important step towards unlocking opportunities and overcoming challenges.

Overcoming the cultural challenge facing digitalisation

Implementing new ways of working and learning how to use new technology can also be a challenge for many manufacturers and their workers. How many times have you bought a new piece of kit whether it’s a new machine, a car or a phone and only used a fraction of its capabilities? Fear of getting it wrong, breaking it, losing essential information or the project failing altogether is common.

When looking to appoint a technology partner, ensure they have a good level of cultural and technical support to help you effectively introduce and embed the solution to maximise cultural adoption and give the project the best possible chance of delivering a positive impact in the shortest time possible.  Without this, your digitalisation project will likely fail.

Have a clear picture from the start as to what success looks like. Understand why you are implementing machine monitoring and what you expect it to achieve. Make this visible in the business: Be honest, transparent, fast and fair.

Factory floor operators will want to know how it will make their lives easier, make their jobs more secure, speed up processes, eliminate redundant processes, or help them focus their skills where they can add value to the business.

Think about creating a working group that includes representatives from different parts of the factory, for example, you may want to include a machine operator, shift supervisor, and operations manager. This will ensure that a range of views will be taken into account and everyone can take ownership of the preferred system from the start.

The fourth industrial revolution is here, don’t fear it, embrace it. High productivity growth will come only to those who learn how to embrace smart technology and use it best. So, what are you waiting for?

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About the author

Chris Iveson, CEO and Co-founder of FourJaw Manufacturing Analytics

Chris is the Founder and CEO of FourJaw Manufacturing Analytics, an investment-backed tech company based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Following an early career as a mechanical design engineer at several UK manufacturers, Chris moved into the role of commercialising manufacturing research at the AMRC.

In 2020 Chris along with his co-founder, Robin Hartley-Willows founded FourJaw. Today, Chris leads a high-performing team that serves manufacturers around the world spanning aerospace and defence, pharmaceuticals, to food production and textiles with its cloud-based manufacturing analytics platform.