by Donald Chan, founder of IMPACT! Brand Communications
Something powerful is shaking up the Manufacturing industry and it will change the way we work and produce products forever.
If you look at history, events that fundamentally changed the way we live have always come from huge manufacturing revolutions. It has happened three times already: First, with the invention of steam and water power in the early 19th century that allowed mechanization and factories to set up assembly lines; second, with the wide application of electrical energy, which laid out the infrastructure and processes for the mass production of products; and third, with the first wave of automation and digitization after World War 2.
According to Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, we are heading towards the fourth industrial revolution known as Industry 4.0.
What Is Industry 4.0?
Essentially, Industry 4.0 is the transformation of traditional mechanical chains in production to “cyber-physical” chains where companies, suppliers, and customers are all connected through IT networks and production processes are fully digitized and automated. To achieve this, present technological innovations need to be explored, developed, and adapted into every step of the production process. These include:
Internet of Things (IoT) – everyday objects and machines are able to connect to the Internet and gather data in real-time.
IoT will continue to expand and using machines connected to and communicating with each other will be the de facto way of doing things. For manufacturers, this means having the capability to establish fully connected and digitized supply chains where product development, marketing, production, and distribution are all fully connected, thus increasing efficiency and output.
Cloud Computing – storing and accessing data over the Internet making it possible to handle tasks anytime, anywhere.
Many companies are using Cloud Computing now for faster information processing and remote collaboration. As the capabilities of this technology strengthens, its use in daily manufacturing operations such as planning, monitoring and controlling of the shop floor, and customer services will also be massive.
Big data and advanced analytics – with IoT, huge amounts of data are uncovered and need to be analyzed for patterns and correlations, market trends, customer preferences, and other useful information for the manufacturer.
The availability of such data can add a new perspective into the way manufacturers develop, test, and produce their products, which leads to more innovations and better decision making.
For customers, this means better, high quality products and services and producers responding quicker to feedback and demands from consumers.
Robotics and Automation – design and application of special computer programs to automate machines.
Robots have been working alongside humans in manufacturing and their participation will increase in Industry 4.0. Robots will do more complex and non-repetitive tasks thereby realizing the true concept of “smart factories” where machines are able to deliver products with minimal human intervention and companies are able to reduce costs, boost production, and consequently, increase profitability.
Augmented Reality – combining real and computer-based scenes and images for a more enhanced view of the world.
With augmented reality, manufacturers will be able to train employees faster and with more accurate instructions and scenarios compared to non-interactive methods like documents or monitors.
Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) – the use of 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD) to produce parts or components layer by layer as opposed to the traditional methods, such as injection molding, die-casting or material removal.
With additive manufacturing, companies gain more design freedom and are able to produce small batches of parts or components at reasonable costs.
As for consumers, this new approach and technology translates to better designed products and faster customization.
Smart sensors – devices that take information from its physical environment and processes it before passing it on.
Several practical benefits of smart sensors include better monitoring by managers in the production line, thus reducing waste and variability in the production process; decrease in unexpected equipment failure, thus avoiding downtime; and more streamlined processes in the company’s supply chain through connectivity and analytics.
What Can You Do to Be Industry 4.0 Ready.
For manufacturers, here are some steps you can do in order to begin your transformation into a smart manufacturer:
Start planning on how to adapt to Industry 4.0 NOW. In a future where everything involves software and decision-making and processes are powered by data, being agile and highly adaptive to changes will be your company’s strongest weapon not just to stay ahead of the game but more importantly to remain a relevant and profitable business.
Last year at the Smart Manufacturing Asia Conference, Industry leaders in Singapore have identified explained that many companies are interested in digitizing their manufacturing operations but not many have a good understanding of what that even means.
Fill your knowledge gap now by exploring advanced technology that you can incorporate in your manufacturing process.
Start Small But Keep On Moving.
Industry 4. 0 entails a comprehensive digital integration that will disrupt and challenge not only employees but also CEOs and upper management. In order to convince people about the benefits of adapting to a technology-focused manufacturing, start with small changes that can demonstrate measurable improvements. Deploying sensors and using cloud computing at more points in your supply chain are a good start.
Invest in Cyber Security.
Cyber security refers to technologies, systems, and practices designed to protect networks and computers against unauthorized access and damage. While stronger interconnectivity of machines and increased data sharing in Industry 4.0 will usher in huge advantages, they also mean bigger threats in security that’s why you will need to also invest in keeping their systems secure and resilient.
Start Engaging with Your Customers.
With IoT, big data analytics, and additive manufacturing, customization will be an important asset to manufacturing companies. Therefore, you need to be closer to your customers and be more responsive in interpreting and accommodating their needs.
One way to do this is to start using digital marketing tools now. Many companies are already using these tools especially Social Media Marketing to stay engaged with their customers and be quicker in responding to market demands.
Industry 4.0 is not some fancy, futuristic concept. It is happening right now and will stay for the long-term. The practical applications of these technological innovations will not only increase the productivity of manufacturers and help them deliver better products and services, but also make them more agile in responding to the demands of consumers, which can mean the difference between profit and bankruptcy in a highly competitive industry.
Donald Chan is the founder and Business Director at IMPACT! Brand Communications, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses grow through content marketing, online lead generation, SEO and marketing automation. IMPACT! specialises in helping clients in the Technology, Healthcare and B2B sectors increase their revenue and profitability.