Smart factory: a reality or still just a dream?

Posted on 18 Aug 2023 by The Manufacturer

While the concept of Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), has been around for years, it’s gaining more momentum as technologies continue to advance and mature. One study projects the Industry 4.0 market to surpass $482bn by 2032, up from $77bn in 2022. So, what does this mean for the smart factory? Antti Kautovaara, Partner, and Teodor Stanilov, Principal, at Kearney explain.

The 2023 Smart Factory Expo in Birmingham, UK, provides a window into this growth. Billed as the UK’s premier manufacturing conference, this year’s event attracted more than 6,000 attendees from 300 organisations. It featured a wide range of digital manufacturing solutions providers, as well as educational sessions on the latest best practices and strategies. Kearney participated in the event for the seventh consecutive year, which provided a first-hand look at where Industry 4.0 currently stands and the challenges manufacturers still face in operationalising the concept.

Developing a vision and road map for adoption

It was clear from the event’s exhibit halls just how much the Industry 4.0 market has grown. Hundreds of technology vendors showcased their capabilities, with many presenting overlapping solutions. However, beyond the sheer volume of exhibitors, the offerings themselves have evolved and matured. For instance, a few years ago, the focus was on addressing more basic concerns such as data capture and management.

More recently, additional solutions have emerged to help manufacturers visualise and gain insight from data. This year, there was a big move toward using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive next-level insights from data and spur greater automation and connectivity.

And yet, despite these advancements, manufacturers continue to have trouble embracing Industry 4.0 to the extent they must to have a real impact on their operations and overall business. Part of the problem is that they can get overwhelmed by the sea of solutions, many of which are largely undifferentiated. According to a survey by Rockwell Automation, one-third of manufacturers said the wide range of available smart factory systems and platforms is translating into ‘technology paralysis’ —an inability to decide among various options.

However, the bigger issue is that many manufacturers lack an overarching vision of what Industry 4.0 looks like in their organisation and a detailed road map for achieving it. Without these two critical elements, manufacturers can end up deploying point solutions that address specific pain points but don’t add up to true digital manufacturing.

To get the most from Industry 4.0, manufacturers need to define their ambition and then spell out the specific capabilities they want to build or improve, then work to identify the technologies that enable them, and the tactical and tangible steps that will get them there. Doing so enables manufacturers to focus on real business outcomes, avoid distractions and prevent investing scarce resources in solutions that don’t help them progress toward their end goal.

This ambition should carefully consider the trade-offs manufacturers must make among three often competing goals: financial, resilience and sustainability performance. How a manufacturer chooses to address these objectives will have a significant impact on what its Industry 4.0 journey looks like.

Industry 4.0

Ecosystems are key to accelerating value

Another clear message from the expo was the critical importance of, and need for, an ecosystem approach to digital manufacturing. The fact is, no single company can provide everything a manufacturer needs to achieve its digital manufacturing goals. An ecosystem of the best companies in their fields amplifies the value each can bring to the table, resulting in far better outcomes and far less risk for manufacturers.

An example of such an ecosystem is the one Kearney has developed with AWS, LineView, and Zaptic. Kearney’s collaboration with these leading companies offers a unique blend of industry expertise, cutting-edge technology and operational excellence that can help manufacturers accelerate their adoption of core Industry 4.0 principles, technologies and practices.

For example, AWS provides Amazon Monitron, an end-to-end system designed to help manufacturers quickly and cost-effectively connect their assets across a plant or their entire operations. The solution uses sensors and advanced machine learning algorithms to detect abnormal conditions in industrial equipment and enable predictive maintenance to avoid costly repairs and downtime. Zaptic provides a platform that enables manufacturers to connect their workers by digitising the daily work processes for frontline teams and providing quick access to context specific issue resolutions and digital work instructions.

By empowering workers with the information and tools they need, manufacturers can drive greater productivity and efficiency. LineView also combines powerful manufacturing efficiency software with operational excellence routines to help manufacturers identify the highest impact opportunities for production line productivity gains – and thus, unlock production line capacity and boost overall equipment efficiency.

By pairing these solutions with Kearney’s industry and large-scale operational transformation experience, this ecosystem can deliver much more than any one of the partners could do on its own. This can be seen at Kearney’s Digital Model Factory, which showcases how technologies and ecosystems can come together to help manufacturers experience first-hand how Industry 4.0 technologies and practices can add value in operations efficiency, safety and quality.

Making the dream a reality

The smart factory has been a manufacturer’s dream for quite some time and, judging from the Smart Factory Expo, interest continues to grow. The Rockwell Automation survey found that two-thirds of manufacturers consider it very or extremely important to their future success. Yet while manufacturers certainly have made progress in driving digital deeper into their operations, and more mature solutions than ever are now available, many manufacturers still struggle to make that dream a reality.

To overcome their challenges, manufacturers need to think more broadly and strategically than point solutions and specific pain points. By developing a compelling vision for what they want to become with the help of Industry 4.0 technologies, and creating a detailed road map for how to get there, manufacturers can tap into the right ecosystem along the way to help accelerate and de-risk their journey.

For more stories on Digital Transformation click here.