Implementing Industry 4.0 in support organizations

Implementing Industry 4.0 can improve operational efficiency and management for manufacturers, but it is ultimately driven by people and they need to be at the forefront of the transformation.

By Amy Mele February 10, 2021
Courtesy: Cincinnati Incorporated

If you’ve spent time in any manufacturing industry during the past decade, you’ve probably experienced the unrelenting pressure to transform operations. With an increasingly global marketplace, many companies have been pushed to upend their production models in the service of flexibility and cost effectiveness – all with an aim to retain customers and ideally, attract new ones. These revised objectives have certainly disrupted traditional approaches to strategy and management, migrating us from a pure efficiency perspective toward a data-driven, value-centric model.

Fortunately, this shift has coincided with dropping technology prices and the rising ubiquity of digital tools, thus ensuring the diverse required data can be gathered and cataloged quickly and cost-effectively. The convergence of these readily-available toolsets with refreshed business needs has resulted in a new, innovative period in manufacturing – Industry 4.0.

People are the core of Industry 4.0 success

Industry 4.0 is the merger of our digital, physical, and virtual realms, according to Henrik von Scheel, a foremost subject matter expert. Fusing these three representations of operations together, especially their data streams, creates a real-time, holistic model of the manufacturer’s ecosystem. The company can then leverage this depiction to swiftly identify productivity enhancements and act on them, with the outcome of raising the firm’s competitive standing.

Given the technological components of Industry 4.0 manufacturing, they often become the focus of a business’s implementation strategy: those familiar buzzwords like Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), smart factory, and digitization. Yet in spite of these tools’ high-tech theme, von Scheel believes true success for any firm with Industry 4.0 resides in its people.

The fourth industrial revolution is meant to drive productivity through institutionalized, iterative improvement to all business systems. Humans, with our unique ability for innovation and adaptation, remain the keystone to transformation: we are the medium through which change is designed and implemented.

These exceptional human qualifications also mean we have a prime role in deploying Industry 4.0 technology. Revolutionary change requires considering the entire process end-to-end instead of in segments: avoiding lopsided improvements in one area to the detriment of others and instead, fostering standardization, interconnectivity, and simplification across all systems.

When pursuing Industry 4.0, this means people synthesizing process data in the context of the total workflow. Their determinations of which technologies should be deployed when and where ensure maximized performance and productivity throughout the value stream.

Where to deploy Industry 4.0

Coming to the “where” of Industry 4.0 implementation, the attention tends to fall on manufacturing; this makes sense, given that production is often regarded as the core of the business. What about support departments, though? Even without Henrik’s warnings on not attempting change in silos, we know from experience support groups and production are two sides of the same coin. Making product is the business objective, but this means nothing if machines aren’t functional and create poor quality parts. The scope has to encompass all disciplines.

While this approach is necessary and valuable, it may seem daunting because we so frequently speak specifically to production in our tales of and guidance on improvement. Translating these instructions from the world of widget throughput to the framework of groups like maintenance, engineering or quality may not seem feasible or worthwhile to the success of Industry 4.0 for a site.

Fortunately, though, we can lean on familiar tools from our support realms to structure how we approach instituting meaningful change and achieving Industry 4.0. Project management methodologies have likely worked their way into most our repertoires, whether through targeted trainings, company standards, or plain osmosis: Agile in software development, the critical path method (CPM) or project management book of knowledge (PMBOK) approach for engineering teams, or the waterfall method for facilities personnel.

Use existing tools to achieve Industry 4.0

These philosophies, while often distinguished by their common use cases, at their core contain the same basic steps. The DMAIC workflow and acronym, originally from Six Sigma but co-opted by many others, provides a simple representation of those steps: Define, measure, analyze, improve and control.

In the define step, we focus on understanding our issues for improvement, the ultimate goals, and specific requirements. We then measure current performance to know where we stand and analyze the data to determine the root cause of each problem. Armed with this knowledge, the next step is implementing solutions to these causes and then control the revised process to prevent backsliding.

With the beginning of a new year, we’re now in the season of kicking off our many company initiatives to achieve 2021 annual strategic goals. That likely means many need to institute some fashion of Industry 4.0 in your department or at your plant this year. Leverage the DMAIC project methodology, step by step, as a guide for successful Industry 4.0 implementation can reap major dividends for a company in the short- and long-term.

Author Bio: Amy Mele, customer account representative at Leading2Lean, a CFE Media content partner.