We recently came across an excellent report from McKinsey discussing Industry 4.0 upgrades across manufacturing and industry, laying out a remarkable roadmap of what the next couple years are likely to bring. The entire article, while lengthy, is an excellent read and well worth your time. However, one aspect of it really stood out to us – how the divide between the technological haves and have-nots is likely to start expanding rapidly.
Larger companies will be investing more heavily in Industry 4.0, automation, robotics, additive manufacturing, even advanced technologies like nanotech, leaving smaller operations behind. For small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) this will represent yet another hurdle to growth, one they’ll need to start trying to overcome if they want to remain competitive.
Fortunately, there are ways that SMEs can start to dip their toes into Industry 4.0, and at least lay the foundations for more substantial upgrades to come.
Understanding The Four Foundations Of Industry 4.0 Initiatives
Industry 4.0 systems can be seen as having four foundational elements, or pillars if you prefer. These are:
- Data and computational investments such as sensors, Internet-of-Things connectivity, and cloud-based servers,
- Analytical investments such as analytical dashboards and machine learning systems,
- Human/Machine interfaces including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and collaborative robotics such as chatbots, and
- Advanced engineering upgrades such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) and nanotech.
SMEs will want to primarily focus on the first two, although dabbling in #3 may be possible. The important aspect is knowing which technologies can then be built upon, to allow more expansive investments and upgrades in the future.
Low-Cost Industry 4.0 Upgrades That SMEs Can Afford
Upgrade paths for each company will be different. Any company, of any size, would be wise to consider its future, and think carefully about how they would like to evolve in the years to come. Having 5- to 10-year plans in place will help direct technological development by providing solid targets. However, these are a few helpful technologies and ideas which should be relatively accessible to almost any SME.
1. Breaking down silos, shifting to data-based thinking
One of the most foundational of changes should be achievable with little to no technology investment at all: breaking down data barriers between departments, encouraging data sharing and collaboration. If a company’s individual departments or specialists are currently using closed-off databases and other information sources, start moving towards a unified database instead. Likewise, encourage data transparency and increased collaboration between departments and workers.
This is a basic corporate culture shift which will be necessary for Industry 4.0 measures to succeed. Smaller operations may have an advantage in making this cognitive shift, given their increased agility.
2. Cloud servers and hosting
Cloud servers are cheap and plentiful, with many large operations such as Amazon Web Services offering highly stable and reliable hosting. In the short term, cloud servers can be used to host databases and other data-based software, allowing centralization while keeping access open regardless of a worker’s location. These servers can then be used as the foundation for more ambitious online/connectivity investments in the future.
3. Smart sensors
IoT-connected sensors have rapidly come down in price, and can usually be retrofit onto existing manufacturing infrastructure with little or no additional upgrades. These sensors should have an immediate positive effect on data-gathering. They’re more accurate and more reliable than human-collected data, and capable of sending the data straight into cloud servers without relying on human data entry either. This should substantially reduce monitoring errors and improve operational efficiency.
4. Analytical dashboards
Software is also cheap to invest in, particularly software licenses for smaller operations. A good analytical dashboard system, hooked up to cloud servers and receiving data from sensors, will allow a much greater degree of insight into business operations. Analytics can then also be used as a springboard for AI investments in the future, moving towards machine learning solutions.
5. Digital work instructions and other learning tools
Finally, look towards communication within a company. There should be a centralized communications system paired with electronic learning tools, such as digital work instructions replacing traditional paper-based instructions. This is another inexpensive upgrade, and excellent for improving training, as well as improving collaboration across a company.
Enabling Interconnected Operations
Industry 4.0 upgrades can be difficult for businesses of any size – even McKinsey’s own studies show less than half of companies today currently managing to move from pilot programs to company-wide rollout. The tools and consultation available from LogicBay can help improve those numbers. Our FUSE platform is a one-of-a-kind collaboration and eLearning system specifically designed to make company-wide initiatives easier to implement, backed by robust training options. Click here to create a free FUSE account, or contact us to learn more.