The phrase 'Industry 4.0' has proliferated across trade, business and national press in recent years, and is largely hailed as the next industrial 'revolution'. However, in the UK Industry 4.0 hasn’t been embraced as widely and as quickly in comparison to our European counterparts. Andrew Minturn, Business Development and Strategic Product Manager at Bosch Rexroth explores the barriers to implementation and offers practical advice on how best to approach Industry 4.0.
There is currently a general understanding that Industry 4.0 refers to the “digitalisation” of a business’s infrastructure, but there has yet to be any consistent standards or definitions applied to what remains an arguably vague concept for businesses worldwide.
Yet, what is becoming clear is that Industry 4.0 will fundamentally define how a country such as the UK does business within the next five to ten years.
The difficulty lies in the UK’s understanding of what Industry 4.0 actually is. Even its epithet – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – is provoking serious debate, with many arguing that it is not a “revolution”, but a logical evolution from the implementation of electronics-led automation, which largely defined the third industrial revolution.
All manufacturing companies, whether large or small, are under constant pressure from their customers for their products to be better quality, lower cost and available quicker. Industry 4.0 should be seen by manufacturers as an umbrella term for a toolkit of available technology to enable them to deliver these customer requirements.
Barriers to Industry 4.0 implementation
Governments around the world are creating strategies and policies to encourage the adoption of digitalised manufacturing, from the USA’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, to Germany’s High-Tech Strategy 2020 Action Plan. The real indicator of Industry 4.0 success, however, is the rate at which individual companies embrace a digital, software-based framework as part of their own strategy. Despite the excitement and increased media coverage, this is progressing more slowly than hoped – especially in the UK.
'The Big Bang'
The media hype around Industry 4.0 has certainly helped to disseminate the message across UK industry, but this has also created a sense of urgency and panic. It has also had the somewhat unintended effect of an all-or-nothing mentality among businesses, particularly SMEs.
A complete digital overhaul, no matter the size of the business, is an enormous task that would prove difficult for even the most resourced businesses to undertake. It is vital that businesses understand such an approach is unnecessary, and may actually be hampering any possibility of moving forwards with an Industry 4.0 strategy.
A concern for many will be the feasibility of scaling digital technologies to match that of their current operations. The suitability of one’s manufacturing environment to Industry 4.0 will certainly vary from business to business, but many manufacturers remain unaware that a range of technologies exist to support the digitalisation of their infrastructure, without the need to replace existing equipment.
The cost of implementation
Whether the business holds an “all-or-nothing” or “one-size-fits-all” mentality, cost will remain a primary concern. While several reports have highlighted a willingness in industry to invest, there remain some doubts over the affordability of certain Industry 4.0-based technologies, as well as the cost of training and/or hiring staff. Furthermore there is currently limited data available to demonstrate the return on investment of Industry 4.0.
It is important to remember that Industry 4.0 does not just refer to technologies within automation, cloud or Edge computing and data sharing. It also encapsulates organisational restructuring – moving from a physical to a digital infrastructure within a more collaborative, data-reliant environment.
This, therefore, requires each employee at an individual level to change his mindset and adopt one that is, not only open to change, but open to the concepts that Industry 4.0 embodies
The best way to implement Industry 4.0 is through a gradual process. This means prioritising the areas in which digitalisation would offer the most benefit, such as improving productivity or levels of quality and consistency.
A step-by-step approach is arguably the best way to implement and adopt digital manufacturing, enabling businesses to expand Industry 4.0 capabilities by building on its initial digitalised capabilities. The advantage being that the solid foundations of technology, infrastructure and skills can be laid, facilitating the final move into the so-called “Factory of the Future”.
As a useful guide to gradual adoption the following three-step approach for Industry 4.0 integration can be used:
1. The implementation of sensors and controls;
2. Enhancing the capabilities of these sensors;
3. Full implementation, in which Industry 4.0 capabilities are rolled out at plant-level.
To download a full copy of the report, A practical roadmap for the implementation of Industry 4.0 and to find out more about how Bosch Rexroth can assist in your Industry 4.0 journey, please visit: http://bit.ly/Industry40WP