We’re in the centre of a industry wide transformation regarding the way we manufacture products thanks to the continuous digitalization of machines, processes and networks.
- The 1st industrial revolution was the advent of mechanization through water and steam power.
- Then came the 2nd, with the mass production and assembly lines using electricity
- We have been living in the 3rd one for a while, and it is due to the use of computers and automation of single purpose machines and robots.
- The 4th industrial revolution will build on the 3rd and connect the computer controlled machines and robots. The connections come in three (at least) different levels, that affects the production differently:
- Single connection. Machines in one workshop will no longer work in isolation with only manual oversight. They are connected to eachother, or become equipped with sensors that sends information to a central hub within the factory.
- Factory to online services: When the machines gets connected to the internet, possibilities open up. The factory can use online services that monitor, predict and even control certain aspects of the machines. The data generated in the factory is constantly analyzed, and patterns are recognized by specialized systems. The information are then sent back to computers, machines and staff working in the factory to optimize operations.
- The third level means that factories not only connect to online services, but to systems that consists of other industry players as well. That can be both customers, suppliers and 3rd party services. After a period of control and calibration, more and more mundane decisions can be left to the system. The factory becomes more autonomous and effective. An example of this would be self-replenishing systems. The system detects that certain items are getting close to set minimum threshold, and automatically orders new items from a predefined supplier and predefined price (or go to an online auction site to get the best price but that is for another article).
The road map to Industry 4.0 - it is not about buying a new system
Even if it sounds good have a smart autonomous factory setup, there is a long way to go for most players. Sensors, online services and connected machines are all good but it does not solve the challenges the industry is facing. With smaller batch sizes in demand, the pressure on perfect setups grows.
A formula 1 car might be a really fast car, but it does not do the work of a tractor especially good. The other way around is also true, you don't show up in at the Monaco Grand Prix with a tractor. Also consider this, if you put in a formula 1 engine in the tractor, what happens? I'm not sure actually but I'm quite sure it's nothing good. You need to have all pieces in place before starting the race, and you need to start in the right end.
With this, I'm trying to say that you need to know the purpose of the transformation, and then take the neccessary steps in the right order.
- Start with the core business, your machines. Make sure they perform really good before taking on the next step. Quality and output should be maximizedm while waste parts should be minimzed.
- When satisfied with the machine, have a look at the machine's closest surrounding. How are the processes working? Downtime? What is the cause? Missing parts etc?
- Then take a wider look at operations and production. How are supporting processes work? Staff turnover? Sales and marketing? Do you get any new customers? Could you handle new customers?
The nice picture above and the way of thinking comes from our partner Seco Consultancy Services (you could talk to them directly in their group).
We are not going to get into too much details on this but my point is that you need have your factory in order before adding superstrength to it.
Would you rather have the supersmart Ironman, or the not so trustworthy Hulk? Both strong, but I'd at least prefer the calculating and effective Ironman who base decisions on data.
With that said, the highlevel road map could (should?) look like this:
- Achieve operational excellence
- Digitalize internally (connect machines)
- Digitalize externally (connect services and external networks)
- Industry 4.0 nirvana, High Mix - Low Volume heaven.
Picture source: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x494jb9
So, where are you going to start? I think it is safe to say that with all the questions and different challenges ahead, and laser focus on day-to-day operations, it will take a lot of smart work and collaboration with external partners and suppliers to get there.
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Author: Johan Wallquist (Business Manager, A Faster Horse)