There is a beauty in manufacturing that many do not see. The way in which competitive forces lead forward thinkers to innovate, which forces the rest to adapt. This often leads to those that are unwilling or unable to move with the pack to quickly cease to be. In a nature vs. nurture way of things, manufacturers have a way of proving Darwin’s evolutionary theories. It is those that most quickly and smartly adapt that survive.
Like every industrial revolution or evolution that came before, the I4 vanguard has broken through and established a first-to-market advantage by smartly applying technology to improve their processes and performance. Others are now following at their own pace. With giants moving to catch the leaders, this revolution is a bit different from the previous ones. The giants can’t just smother the vanguard because they are too far ahead. By adopting some of the methods that have created the lightning-fast evolutionary pace of the IT sector, these first movers are showing a world how truly brilliant manufacturing can be.
There are many advantages that come with Industry 4.0 but it all comes down to being smarter. Smart tools that can tell you before you need repairs. Smartphones, tablets and scanners that improve your warehouse. It all comes down to getting better data from your shop by adding tech in places where visibility and precision will make a greater difference. But, perhaps the most important advantage, come from adding smarter controls to manage all your data in the way of a new ERP system.
All your data, from the financials to the shop operations have always been tracked. But now, smarter tools can help you make sense of that information in real-time. Industry 4.0 has a lot of advantages but they all need that smarter central brain to ensure you are getting the maximum benefit from the new changes. And this smarter brain gives you the greatest advantage of all: Smarter decisions.
Basically, by giving you a better view of your company with more precise metrics, you can get a better understanding of what you need to do next, where you need to grow, etc. But there is more to it than that. Remote work by requirement has opened up an amazing new world of possibilities. One of them is that now, you and your staff can take any required action from anywhere as long as they have the information to make the right decisions. So, with that smarter central unit, you can be at a customer location, receive an urgent notification, and have access to the data you need to make a decision you will not regret. If you are at home due to a personal emergency, you can still access your information with complete control that helps you take smart executive actions.
This is what better data and smarter decisions means. Improved transparency, visibility, and collaboration with all affected business units. To sum up: With that better data, there is also confidence that the choice that you make is always the right one.
You can implement industry 4.0 technologies in almost all parts of your plant. It usually starts with a newer, or updated ERP system that acts as the smart central brain and allows you to benefit from all the data you already have while granting you other benefits, like improved communications with your clients, your suppliers, and your financial institutions.
Another benefit of smart interconnected machines is that you can have a better idea of how hard, or not so hard, you can run your machines. With predictive maintenance units, you can get various measurements and gauges to let you know how the machine is operating. This allows you to push the machines to a higher limit while minimizing unexpected breakdowns and unscheduled maintenance.
A final place, as mentioned, is in the warehouse. With barcode scanners and smart apps, you can improve the operator action response time while decreasing their number of errors. More often than not, this also involves less training and more cross-position accessibility, so that one person being out for weeks is no longer a nerve-racking handicap. Instead, you can rest assured that their position can be filled with minimal added training and oversight.
The best thing about technology is that with every passing year it is getting cheaper and more accessible. It’s not even that cutting-edge anymore. A lot of the Industry 4.0 technology solutions are simpler to use than a smartphone, and cheaper too. Take, for example, bar code scanners. These were invented in the 70s and have been common usage for many industries since the 80s. That’s 50 years of technological innovation with a constantly falling price, size, and complexity. The biggest change that comes with Industry 4.0 is that new ERPs have learned of creative ways to use the scanners that improve the efficiency of your operators.
How about 20 years of smartphones and smartphone app development? This has meant that developers are great at building easy-to-use and easy-to-learn inexpensive tools that can change the way you do things for the better.
In other words, keeping up with the times is becoming more accessible. Adding to the lower price point for entry level technology, there are also subscription-style systems, where you pay less a month while receiving the benefits of tools that have cost millions to develop.
As you can see, this is all just adding automation to your plant. Automation isn’t just robots, after all. It can also be something as simple as digitally distributing picklists, or automatically scanning and creating records of invoices and receipts. At most plants that have started implementing Industry 4.0 measures, they have found that any added automated processes and systems quickly pay for themselves with reduced costs and more efficient processes.
Measuring the cost of innovating against the perceived benefits can make is seem like it is not worth doing. Technology brings disruption, which brings uncertainty, which brings costs. That much is true. But what is the alternative? What are your competitors doing? A recent survey by plant.ca shows that 66% of companies are implementing Industry 4.0 technologies (IIot). In today’s global economy, you cannot sit back and work like you always worked when your competition, here and abroad, are getting themselves that first-mover advantage that leaves you unable to compete in under a decade.