It seems that most manufacturers, at whatever stage of their Industry 4.0 journey, can make gains in production efficiency—and ultimately their bottom line—without investing more in the machinery or operating systems they already have in place.
Is your ROI as good as you think it should be? According to what many customers have told me in recent years, I would bet that your answer is, “no it isn’t.” This may well be due to disconnects between expectations and real-world achievement. On the one hand, it might be the speed of adoption that is not living up to expectations, but on the other hand, and in most cases, the efficiency savings and production boost expected from Industry 4.0 implementation are not being delivered.
Here’s the point: If you don’t embrace all of the connected aspects of Industry 4.0, you can’t expect to realize the full benefits. Industry 4.0 is much more than simply automating your production (some people estimate this achieves 40–50% of fully Industry 4.0 attainment), although this usually does increase production efficiency and quality to a degree. In order to realize the vision of smart production, you will need further integration of information and environments, supported by big data analytics applications.
You need will to build seamless production environments by designing efficient traffic routes and integrating work flows so that manual effort is minimized when transferring materials to machines. Sensors can provide information and upload the status of their equipment, production information, as well as logistics data, into the cloud. Then you must integrate all the data and information with a customized Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, which means that the status of manufacturing can be monitored and analyzed in real time. The end-to-end production, from the sourcing of supplies to the feeding of materials, to the processing and final delivery of the finished products can be monitored—with remedial actions initiated immediately and automatically where needed. Now we are looking at 60 to 70% of what is required to achieve Industry 4.0.
A digital transformation means that upper-level information and communication systems as well as data analytics will be able to control production schedules, material ordering, production volume control and delivery schedules. This will ensure that all production resources are used as effectively as possible and production requirements will be met in an efficient and flexible way.
Going truly digital (the full adoption of IoT) also means more stability for your production line can be guaranteed and downtime prevented (or at least minimized). You will be able to conduct maintenance or repairs at the optimum moment, when tools might show signs of wear or faults, but have yet to fail completely. So by using digital detection capabilities, i.e. sensors, algorithms and big-data analytics, you will benefit not only from more finely timed periodic maintenance, but importantly, you will harness the benefits of predictive fault maintenance, and the cost saving associated with this. Without such capabilities repairs are normally carried out after equipment failure or malfunction—resulting in system downtime.
With all of the above in place, you will reap the full benefits of what Industry 4.0 can offer. Full adoption is not an overnight process—Rome wasn’t built in a day! But wherever you are on your Industry 4.0 transformation journey, it’s essential to plan your route forward; and bring in the support you need to make your next step towards successful, full implementation.