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Industry 4.0: Don't be left behind

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Operations Excellence by Sepp Gmeiner
Sepp Gmeiner is a partner with Lignum Consulting. For feedback, questions and/or suggestions please email
IWF 2018 in Atlanta was held just a few months ago and it was a great show, and practically all major equipment suppliers had their product linked to the Industry 4.0 theme.
Automation is moving ahead and fast, and robots are getting much more common and collaborative robots are allowing humans and robots to work together in the same workspace.
This change is most often described as an evolution; a gradual change, however, this particular change is accelerating. If companies fail to modernize and fall behind, the distance to the leaders will become insurmountable.
With each investment we need to check whether it is compatible with Industry 4.0.
How do we know?
Industry 4.0 is all about integration of machines and the internet. Seamless integration works very well when there are established protocols. The suppliers of equipment and software are working on it, however, sometimes it is not in their strategy to ‘mix and match’ product from different companies. In the meantime, we must deal with what is available.
In my opinion companies need to evaluate their 
status quo and create an overall plan on how to transform the company. It is unlikely that any company can ‘sit out’ this transformation. This is not a fashion trend, which we could ignore and wait until this trend passes and life returns to normal. The same way your business today would be less viable, or even impossible, without CNC machines, your business will struggle without integration.
Just look around and recognize what changes are happening in Canada. The change towards technology integration happens not only in the manufacturing industry. It’s also impacting commerce, healthcare, entertainment and home; it is already affecting all aspects of our lives.
When assessing a company, I like to look at seven categories. Based on the answers on those categories, a roadmap for Industry 4.0 can be developed. In the big picture all categories need to be aligned. Medium-term and long-term, none of the categories can be neglected or be underdeveloped.

The company’s strength 
will be determined by its weakest link.
-Corporate Objectives
-Product Range and Services
-Market Positioning
-Product Variation Management
-Product Data Model
-Rule-based Construction
-Construction Standards
-Platform strategy
-Data Integration
-Product Planning 
& Control
-ERP|MES Integration
-Synchronized Production
-Information Flow
-Machine /System Integration
-CAD|ERP Configurator
-Customer Order
-Product & Demand Planning
-Lean Manufacturing
-Production System/Model
-Organizational Structure
-Supply Chain
-Process Engineering
-Automation Technology
-Preventive Maintenance
-Facility Management
-On-time delivery (Quantity – Time – Quality)
-Intelligent Material Supply
-Suitable Technology Concepts
-Separating Value-adding from Logistics
-Internal Logistics
-Rework Organization
-Human resources
-Methods & Problem-Solving Skills
-Qualification | Skills Development

You can start such an assessment yourself. Take every point of the above list and turn it into a question: How do we compare to the best there is? The list of answers is your profile. It is not very scientific, it is crude, but it is a start. By involving key people in your company and averaging the results, the accuracy improves somewhat.
By getting the people, who are familiar with the subject matter, engaged, you get the most accurate picture and profile.
Against this profile you evaluate any proposed capital investment of improvement initiative. How will it change the profile? Does it lead to a more balanced profile?
The next question should be, what investment or initiatives need to be started to address the lowest scoring subjects/categories?
Other questions, such as what are the easiest (low-hanging-fruits) improvements that can be made?
In my opinion, the most important step is to put Industry 4.0 on your agenda. If you do not get started with taking a serious look at how it will apply to your business, nothing will change. The distance to the early adopters will increase. More information about this inevitable technology is available from equipment and software suppliers, consultants, industry associations 
and networking.
Having Industry 4.0 
on the agenda will 
start the discussion and 
will open your mind to learning more about this exciting technology.

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