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Industry 4.0: Manufacturers Need a Nudge in the Right Direction

This year’s Annual Manufacturing Report [AMR] – published by Hennik Research – and produced with support from The Manufacturer and a cohort of other big industry names has really spelled out the challenge of helping manufacturers transform. There are some amazing, innovative new ideas on the market just waiting to make a difference to their operational performance, but knowledge, skills, funding and accessible data is holding them back.     

Given my data background, the IT section of the 2017 AMR actually did little to interest me! I was far more excited to read the research into Industry 4.0 and the vision of ‘connected factories’. Far more than continued investing in ERP and ICT, Industry 4.0 has the potential to deliver much greater benefits to the entire industry. However, from what I read in the report, this discussion isn’t yet a top priority in the board room.  Much work to be done.

For me, ERP is still an area where most manufacturers seem happy to invest; it’s almost a safe bet, a low hanging fruit, but not a big-ticket opportunity to increase output and margin. Trusted names still talk about ERP and it’s a language that manufacturers understand. But, moving them onto more advanced, potentially more beneficial, innovations – like Industry 4.0 – is still a much harder sell.

Industry 4.0 has the potential to make big operational improvements and, rightly so, the survey shows that a significant majority of respondents to the AMR were either already undertaking a move to Industry 4.0 (23%), or were planning to do so (62%). 33% also said they were going to spend more than last year on connectivity. But, and this is a big BUT, 52% stated that their own lack of appropriate expertise would hold them back.

This supports my own experiences that people simply don’t have the knowledge of Industry 4.0 and connected data at an operational level.  There aren’t too many, if any manufacturers, with a team of data scientists embedded on the shop floor. The employees at ground level have no idea how to use this stuff and few at a board level know how to benefit. There’s a really big ‘education piece’ to do across the supply chain and we really need to help teams along the journey from awareness into action.

The second issue is that tier 1 manufacturers might have the resources to invest into Industry 4.0 [including their own learning and reducing knowledge gaps] but that doesn’t apply through their supply chain where significant connected data opportunities lie.

My last point would be this. Industry 4.0 relies on connected data. If the data isn’t accessible – i.e. if its locked into a specific silo IT system, or worse it’s not being saved – organisations can’t possibly manage and improve performance.  The idea of Industry 4.0 is production and supply chains operating with minimal intervention, self-learning, optimising, resilient –   closing the physical, digital loop.  This isn’t the case for most UK manufacturers but it presents a significant opportunity for UK businesses and where we can help.

What manufacturers need right now is help to increase their knowledge of Industry 4.0 at an operational level. They need help to access data that’s already in production facilities; help to see and make decisions, and, help to move them along the technology road map. As such, right now, Industry 4.0 is mostly theoretical, but with the right support, manufacturers should be able to get clear benefits: increasing margin, outputs and quality.