Historically, major technological advancements in manufacturing have been marked as Industrial
Revolutions. The first was mechanization and water/steam power (Industry 1.0), followed by mass production and electricity (Industry 2.0), and then computers and the internet (Industry 3.0).
Today, we’re in the age of the fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), embodied by the smart factory—a combination of cyber-physical systems, automation and the Industrial Internet of Things.
As the world advances through each Industrial Revolution, the revolutions become less and less…industrial. Today’s innovations are less mechanical and more cyber-physical, now involving IIoT connectivity and cloud computing. Because of this, manufacturing factories are undergoing digital transformations, not just on the factory floor but also business-wide. The smart factory is now connected to the entire business, which changes the way manufacturing firms work toward business goals. Machines are now machines-as-a-service, contributing to business goals through IIoT connectivity.
The first noticeable change the smart factory heralds in is an increase in customer touchpoints.
Traditionally, factory floor buyers only come into contact with vendors during the initial sale of a machine, along with the occasional instances of maintenance and repair. Now that these machines-as-a-service support IIoT connectivity, touchpoints are expanding beyond traditional installations and service.
Vendors can offer new capabilities through software upgrades, thus prolonging the floor life and productivity of each IIoT-connected machine. These software enhancements not only boost productivity on the factory floor but also offer greater connectivity across the business. For example, a manufacturing firm’s finance department can pull statistics on how each machine is performing, while the legal department reviews service logs to ensure machines are compliant with the latest standards.
Vendors that offer IIoT-connected machines now must take into account these business-wide use cases, considering the smart business as a whole instead of the smart factory as an individual silo.
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Another differentiator is the acceleration to real-time. Factory-floor teams must no longer wait until a machine is visibly broken before placing a service request. Now, the machines-as-a-service will immediately detect when something malfunctions, notifying the user and starting the clock for the service technician to resolve the issue. The pressure is on service technicians to find new ways—e.g. through partners or crowdsourcing—to keep up with the IIoT-connected pace and maintain constant, productive factory uptime.
The acceleration to real-time increases visibility across the business as well. Instead of waiting on weekly printed reports with productivity numbers, different departments now have immediate access to the smart factory’s production. The focus is not as much on the speeds, feeds, nuts and bolts of the machine as much as it is on how efficiently the machine performs in driving toward business goals.
With the increased number of customer touchpoints and the acceleration to real time, vendors must offer a holistic digital-transformation solution instead of a quick, stop-gap fix to achieve the true smart factory.
Digital transformation should not mean digitizing processes in a piecemeal manner—for example, connecting things to the internet, or eliminating paper trails. Instead, digital transformation is a wholly integrated approach to innovation, with an understanding of not only how processes are digitized but also how they’re all connected.
Once manufacturing firms develop and implement strategic end-to-end digitization plans—from service to product and vice-versa—only then will they take full advantage of the technological advancements of Industry 4.0.
Manuel Grenacher is CEO of Coresystems.