Minds + Machines Europe 2017: Day 2

Jonny Williamson rounds up all the second day’s key takeaways from the side-lines of one of the world’s largest Industrial Internet events – Mind + Machines Europe 2017, hosted by GE in Berlin this week.

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Day two moved the conversation on, with an exploration of how the Industrial Internet is taking us beyond the current global focus around ‘Industry 4.0’.

Within 10 years, a quarter of Europe’s economy will be digital industrial. A decade is a surprisingly short amount of time for such a complete paradigm shift, so if you’ve yet to define your digital transformation strategy, the time is very much now.

The conversation surrounding digital transformation, the Industrial Internet and smart manufacturing has shifted from the theoretical to the practical, a move reflected in the event’s agenda.

The first day of Minds + Machines offered an in-depth discussion outlining the digital transformation of industry, alongside a showcase of real-world case studies from companies achieving significant productivity and revenue gains by embracing the digital age.

You can read a recap of Minds + Machines Europe 2017: Day 1 here.

Day two moved the conversation on, with an exploration of how the Industrial Internet is taking us beyond the current global focus around ‘Industry 4.0’.

Deborah Sherry, general manager and chief commercial officer of GE Digital Europe, kicked off proceedings by noting that businesses can only achieve so much on the factory floor before peaking. As such, we need to stop focusing on ‘enterprise’ productivity and start exploring ‘ecosystem-wide’ gains.

A company known for practicing what it preaches, GE has taken the decisive step of getting rid of its IT department and replaced it with a ‘digital technology’ department. The move supports GE’s ambition to transition from ‘order takers’ to ‘productivity makers’ and generate US$1bn in productivity by 2020 – it’s currently on track to hit US$730m by YE2017.

Fourth Industrial ‘Confusion’

We live in an oxymoronic world, according to Gartner Research’s Frank Ridder. On the one hand, digital technology is fundamentally changing how we live and work, with companies driving globalisation to an ever-higher level. Yet, events such as the vote to leave the European Union and successful election campaign of Donald Trump were built on the back of a de-globalisation sentiment.

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Adding to global uncertainty is the wide variety of local industrial initiatives, such as Germany’s ‘Industrie 4.0’, ‘Made in China 2025’, the UK’s ‘Manufacturing the Future’, South Korea’s ‘Smart Factory Foundation’, America’s ‘Industrial Internet Consortia’ and many others.

All are similar in that they seek to drive businesses to become more digital, but distinct enough to turn the Fourth Industrial Revolution into the Fourth Industrial ‘Confusion’.

To help simplify the issue, Ridder offered the following advice: maintain a global view and ambition, increase your knowledge and understanding at every available opportunity, and enhance your governance model both internally and out to your supply chain and ecosystem partners.

Pick a platform

The Industrial Internet allows companies to think bigger and collaborate better, but to realise the full opportunity businesses have to move deeper into their value chain. By gaining a greater level of transparency and understanding across their entire ecosystem, and that of their clients’ and their clients’ clients’, value chains can be meshed together for the benefit of all parties – and not just restricted to one industry.

Such a joined-up approach can only be possible with the support of a digital platform, one which offers cross-industry breadth combined with specific, deep industry knowledge and application.

There are a handful of platforms which currently fit that brief, and now is the time to choose one before the platform chooses you. With the amount of disruption occurring on both  a broad and niche scale, waiting is no longer a viable option.

Digitising the automotive value chain   

Automotive is digitally transforming faster than any other manufacturing sector, but not exclusive to other sectors. Whatever has already happened will pale in comparison to the huge changes the world of mobility is going to see over the coming decade.

One such change is expected to be an increasingly blurring of the line separating public and private transport. To prepare for this soon-to-be-realised future, automotive manufacturers have to start seeing data as the core of their products, rather than horsepower, engines or drivetrains.

That’s easier said than done, however. The concept of a ‘smart factory’ runs counter to how many plant managers and engineers view their shop-floor. They are used to operating in a very well understood, efficient and productive way which offers healthy profit margins.

They are now being told to transition to a less well-tested and understood concept, and are understandably sceptical as a result.