Industry 4.0 Can Create New Possibilities For Manufacturers

The black swan event of COVID-19 put brakes on economic expansion and aggravated those economics already reeling under recession. As economic recovery begins across the world, manufacturing companies find themselves grappling with gyrating demand scenarios. The catastrophic event has made it difficult for manufacturers to project demand, manage inventory and plan their production cycles as the flattening or rising of COVID-19 curve among other factors, dictates the demand. 

Further, the pandemic has accelerated existing production inefficiencies, lack of cost optimisation measures and true realisation of lean manufacturing principles. These scenarios have brought Industry 4.0 to the fore. The time is now ripe for manufacturers to leverage Industry 4.0 to become resilient, build scalability and neutralise the COVID fallout on production and its management systems. However, to achieve Industry 4.0, it is vital to establish the core connections and capabilities from the shop floor edge to the cloud. 

The need to embrace IT-OT convergence 

Manufacturers must recognise the difference between plant-level Operating Technology (OT) and enterprise-level Information Technology (IT) and embrace their convergence. For perspective, all machines, manpower and material including sensors, machine controllers, any enablers of automation, computers or software that control machines, track products or operator activities on the shop floor make up the OT layer. The IT comprises infrastructure, networking, cloud, security, data and applications that enable ‘shop floor to top floor integration’ by connecting data collected on the shop floor to the enterprise layer for a broader set of analytics. Traditionally, an OT environment operates in isolation without any integration with the IT layer that is essential to achieving Industry 4.0.

To ensure the IT-OT convergence, manufacturers need to roll out proven, easy-to-use practices to deploy and manage complex applications like data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) models at scale. Another important factor to achieve Industry 4.0 is adequately tapping the data generated to get actionable insights. 

Significance of data for Industry 4.0

An average factory generates one TB of production data every day but a mere one percent of that data is analysed, as per a global IBM study on AI in the industrial sphere. World over, across several sectors, many manufacturers are flooded with data but negligible actionable insights. Whereas manufacturers can build ‘Predictive Maintenance’ capabilities by combining analytics with Big Data approaches to identify patterns in data, uncover model behaviors of equipment and predict failures or even product quality issues. Manufacturers need to keep in mind that data will continue to amass as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connected devices pervade the shop floor. 

They also need to be aware that with the large influx of data and the complexity of analytics, traditional computing will not be able to scale. Therefore, computing needs to become cognitive so it can easily process, analyse and optimise data on the shop floor. Manufacturing has to evolve from being an IT-based digital factory into cognitive manufacturing. After all, Industry 4.0 has today transformed into the cognitive manufacturing era. With the advancement of AI and cognitive manufacturing, Industry 4.0 is creating new possibilities for improving manufacturing across the value chain, from suppliers, across the shop floor, and through to customer units in the field. 

Industry 4.0: benefits aplenty for manufacturers

The benefits of adopting Industry 4.0 are multi-fold for manufacturers as ‘smart’ plant operations lead to improved efficiency; reduced defective parts per million, greater output and boosting of workforce productivity. Industry 4.0 also ensues in the optimisation of assets and inventory, continuous monitoring of equipment and processes, as new data feeds into the AI-driven solutions. In such a ‘digital shop floor’, the AI solution learns and interprets data patterns and related outcomes leading to increase in fault prediction, security and productivity over time. Moreover, manufacturers get the visibility they need to scale the production up or down and reduce downtime. 

By leveraging Industry 4.0 principles and technologies, manufacturers can enable lean manufacturing and just-in-time pull production that are highly pertinent in the times that we live in today. So, what are the key aspects manufacturers need to note when they begin their Industry 4.0 journey?

Roadmap to implementing Industry 4.0

Besides deploying the right technologies and solutions, businesses should identify the specific challenges they face and define the key performance indicators (KPIs) in line with their business goals. Successful adoption of Industry 4.0 also depends on their capability to innovate, to transform data, processes and work culture on the shop floor. Above all, they should choose a partner with a profound understanding of advanced technologies, deep industry expertise and the experience of industrial implementations. Joining hands with such a partner will enable them to rapidly achieve results, avoid roadblocks and maximize impact on their business. 

In these times, manufacturers need to adopt Industry 4.0 to gain a competitive edge, drive improved business results and generate greater customer value and future-proof themselves from global-scale disruptions. Industry 4.0 can create new possibilities for them.

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Venu Juvvala
Venu Juvvala is Director- Industrial Sector at IBM India & South Asia, and leads a large team of industry experts, technical architects and client managers across the region. He specialises in IoT and cloud technologies to drive digital transformation for IBM clients. Venu is a B.Tech In mechanical engineering and has an MBA from IIM Bangalore.

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