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The reality of the early journey to Industry 4.0

July 06, 2017

The reality of the early journey to Industry 4.0

Author: Francisco Almada Lobo
CEO of Critical Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 Specialist

When I first became interested in the industry 4.0, it had already been discussed in Germany and the United States in some scientific and enterprise environments. It was clearly becoming a topic of interest, but nobody could anticipate how strategic it would become.

A few years have passed and, today, there is not a single day without seeing a news piece, a conference, or someone contacting me because they have some activity, plan or simply an idea related to the subject.

What is interesting is that despite the fact that so many people talk about it, very few people are really enlightened about the meaning, the scope and for those in the manufacturing world, how to get there and where to start.

The fact is there is a huge confusion about the concepts and what they actually mean. Industry 4.0 is frequently confused with automation; the underlying technologies are confused with the main concept; and the operational aspects are confused with new business models this revolution allows.

In addition, and in order to create even more confusion, texts and interventions abound, in which the I4.0-like models are applied to contexts other than manufacturing, such as retail, fashion, agriculture, tourism, public services, education, etc. In reality, although many of the principles are the same, in most cases these are just processes of digitization or dematerialization, applicable to all sectors of the economy.

But back to the central point, to manufacturing, there’s a series of fallacies that I constantly hear, and that I never tire of trying to refute.

  1. Industry 4.0 implies completely automated processes with minimal human intervention. This is terribly wrong as it forgets one of the main principles of Industry 4.0: the need to provide extremely customized products to customers. Here’s something I wrote about that: Surprise, surprise: Mercedes to replace robots by… humans
  2. Plants with little maturity will be able to experience productivity and quality improvements by quantum leaps by using I4.0 technologies. Sorry, but it is wrong again! Unfortunately, there is no easy path to manufacturing excellence. No pain, no gain! No matter which technologies are used. I wrote an article some time ago which touches this point: Garbage in, garbage out: automating immature processes
  3. Finally, and this by far the one I like the most, any and all production management software is no longer necessary because data that is collected by IoT is sent directly to the cloud for data analysis.
No way, Jose! So, the machines are connected and collecting data, this data is sent to machine learning and miraculously all productivity, process and process quality, new product introduction, etc. will start automatically improving!?

It is the shop-floor, the manufacturing and even the enterprise wide processes, and their continuous improvement, that drive efficiency. Automatic data collection will make these way more effective than before, but will definitely not replace them! Likewise, big data and machine learning will allow finding correlations and patterns that were previously impossible and derive efficient predictive and prescriptive models, but based on sufficiently contextualized and complete data, coming from the shop-floor (including all data collected from IoT).

Putting things even more clearly: MES systems are not only an essential part of an Industry 4.0 strategy, they are really the essential piece. They are the backbone of Industry 4.0, without which any strategy will inevitably fall short of the objectives.

Fortunately, some manufacturers understand this and have concrete plans, with their feet firmly on the ground, with clear objectives as to what they intend to achieve.

The two speakers hosting our next webinar fit perfectly into this profile. Alois Schacherl is not only one of our best customers, he is also an extremely demanding IT professional who often puts my entire organization to the test! However, he is also someone who knows perfectly what Industry 4.0 means and what paths have to be followed to achieve it.

Julie Fraser is singularly a person with more MES knowledge that anyone I am aware of. In addition, she has a great vision and understanding of Industry 4.0 and the role of MES as its main backbone.

For all these reasons, this is a webinar that should not be missed!

Register for a webinar

Webinar: The reality of the early journey to Industry 4.0

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