Many companies currently believe that Smart Manufacturing, or Industry 4.0 is the next logical next step of the automation movement. Industry 3.0 started in the late 80s and early 90s with the introduction of PLC and robotic technology. To introduce Smart Manufacturing, companies mistakenly expect to simply implement more automated systems of some kind. As a result, they’d reduce the number of employees, and thereby increase their profits.
But this far from what Smart Manufacturing and all the other related issues are about. The goal is to revolutionize, to find new ways to develop, produce and deliver physical products or services. And use the right combination of machines and humans to do so.
The introduction of Smart Manufacturing cannot, and will never be a classical project. It is a journey involving everybody in a company. It might even take 10 -20 years, as explained by Conrad Leiva VP Product Strategy and Alliances at iBASEt in a recent article.
The combination of machines and humans
To achieve true collaboration between machine and human workers, companies need to find the right balance. New technologies like robots/co-bots, AGV’s/AIV’s and others must collect, analyze and present data. Human talent, not yet developed, must also support these new technologies. Certain types of jobs, like the typical line worker, will certainly decline in number. But the demand for other positions will increase, including data analysts, developers, programmers and service/maintenance mechanics.
I wrote about how Industry 4.0 does not mean the wholesale loss of jobs in my previous post. This opinion is supported by many, including in acatec’s and Forschungsunion’s recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative INDUSTRIE 4.0.
- To collect all of the data created by a company’s processes, regardless whether it is from a physical machine, a digital twin, or a service.
- To transform this raw data into actionable information, accessible by humans and machines alike.
This actionable information will help humans and machines in making fast, targeted and value adding decisions. It may unlock access to new markets currently not served by simply discovering insights when analyzing this data. Therefore, the healthy coexistence of human and machines is of the utmost importance to the success of Smart Manufacturing.
Industry 4.0 is not a project in the classical sense
It is important to clearly understand that Smart Manufacturing is not a project in the classical sense. Instead, you must see Smart Manufacturing as a journey. This journey will ultimately transform the entire company, touching every single aspect. It will change how your company is organized, how people work with each other, how data flows and how processes interact.
When you set off on this journey, you must accept that you are going to fundamentally disrupt every aspect of your company. You need buy in from all of the stakeholders, from the top C-Level down to the shop floor. Only then will you be able to find and take advantage of ‘tribal knowledge’ and hidden champions, and get the support you need for this change to be successful.
Don’t make the mistake of excluding anybody, or you will be in for a rough ride: You will need to spend unnecessary time trying to break resistance encountered in yet another department or group that you discover is touched by your changes. When you exclude people, they will not be invested in the success: They will call it ‘your solution’, and not be willing to help in any way when things get rough or need to be adjusted.
Constant collaboration is the key to success
After each step on your journey has been completed, everyone involved should discuss their progress and air any concerns. Only through collaboration will you be able to achieve true Smart Manufacturing. As your company progresses towards Industry 4.0, you will find hidden potential, improve processes and quality, improve or create new services for customers, and even unlock new markets. A Smart Enterprise is a company which has successfully reached this advanced level.
Understand your own data and processes first
When you have successfully gained the support of all stakeholders, you should first start with understanding your own company:
- How is the company organized?
- How does each operational silo work and interact with each other?
- What is the entire value chain?
- How do the silos interact with the value chain?
- What inputs and outputs are created along the value chain?
The next step is to analyze the technology you are using, like ERP, MES or MOM, QM, PLM or CRM solutions. What data is collected and required for these systems to operate, and how do they interact with each other? You want to create as complete a picture as possible of how you operate today, so you can find where the gaps are.
Design the Smart Manufacturing framework
Now, you can start to draft your ideal Smart Manufacturing framework: Break down your old structure, where typically isolated operational silos work mostly independently or with minimal static communication and transform it into an operational net or cloud. You should be able to establish a digital thread, both horizontally and vertically, connecting operational functions with each other, showing where they must or should communicate. This may reach outside the boundaries of your company to include suppliers, partners and/or customers. As a result of this breakdown and redesign, you will identify and close any gaps caused by broken or non-existing communication.
In part two of this post, I’ll look at how you can introduce the new technology successfully, and how you might even be able to keep using your existing systems.