Unleashing the benefits of Industry 4.0

By - World Manufacturing Journal

Unleashing the benefits of Industry 4.0

Introducing the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 successfully to a business, particularly those in pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing, has a number of well-recognised advantages, writes David Belton, Director at Quentis. However, in order to yield these benefits, a series of strategic and skills-based challenges affecting implementation must first be overcome.

Industry 4.0 offers manufacturing businesses opportunities to improve quality and reduce cost through processes such as self-monitoring and diagnostics. These can, in turn, enable the implementation of enhanced quality control strategies, the generation of higher production efficiencies and the reduction in downtime through predictive and preventative maintenance. To the broader business, there are opportunities to integrate the end-to-end supply chain, improve product traceability and agility, as well as reactions to customer demand changes.

Business understanding and strategy

In recent years, Industry 4.0 research has mainly focused on how to apply the technologies, but strategy and implementation have been less well covered. Challenges that have often been identified in the implementation of Industry 4.0 include the degree to which the business understands its potential, the establishment of a clear strategic direction within the business, the generation of the required skillsets across the business, the development of cross-functional alignment between teams and ensuring best practice in data management in order to manage the risk of information overload.

When developing an Industry 4.0 strategy, it is important to recognise the working practicalities that it entails. Industry 4.0 is, put simply, a suite of enabling technologies. Their main purpose is to provide the means, rather than the ends, to achieving certain goals. Many manufacturing businesses have strategic manufacturing objectives around areas such as cost reduction, quality improvement, demand management and sustainability. It is a highly effective starting point to ask “how can we apply Industry 4.0 to support the delivery of these strategic goals? ”

With clearly defined goals, an Industry 4.0 strategy becomes a series of connected projects that can share the same data capture, analysis and storage solutions with a view to ensuring a common base on which future projects can build. However, to improve understanding, businesses also need to address another question: “What novel opportunities can these technologies bring? ” This is crucial to encouraging more innovative thinking in order to unlock benefits for the entire business.

Skillsets and cross-functional alignment

A common theme within Industry 4.0 research is the need for companies to invest in developing the necessary skillsets. These largely focus on the production and operations levels, with some consideration of engineering and IT in terms of the skills required to deploy and maintain the Industry 4.0 systems. However, all functions in a manufacturing organisation are impacted by an Industry 4.0 strategy. This is similar to how material requirements planning (MRP) systems have given way to business-wide enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

So, what sorts of skills and knowledge do non-production and non-technical groups need for Industry 4.0? Broadly speaking, they need to be aware of the type of data that can be captured and how they can analyse and use it to improve their decision-making and processes. Demonstrations and examples can effectively show the art of the possible. Equally, caution should be applied to prevent over-promising and overselling the benefits of such a strategy.

Data management and information overload

One often unanticipated challenge is the quantity of data that will be captured and stored. A sensor on a continuous process may capture hundreds or thousands of data points per second. Camera systems may take millions of images per year and, even with data compression, this can rapidly add up to many terabytes of data needing to be captured and stored.

A “capture everything” approach can, therefore, be counterproductive with much of the captured data never used or even analysed. This can cause information overload due to there being so many potential ways to view data that it can appear difficult to discern what is of value. To manage this, early strategic clarity to define the data that is important to capture, as well as guidance on how long the data should be retained, becomes key. This is particularly applicable to pharmaceutical and medical devices where quality data retention requirements can lead to an over-simplified “keep everything” policy.

Delivering successful Industry 4.0

The fundamental factors to the successful delivery of Industry 4.0 are:

  • A clear understanding of Industry 4.0 with an objective-based strategy and roadmap
  • Cross-functional team working and upskilling 
  • An effective programme of delivery to focus on objective-based solutions

The first gap is often the most consequential. While company objectives may be well understood, awareness of the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies can present a big challenge to be overcome. To start closing this gap, broad-based cross-functional groups can be formed to build practical requirements and meet the desired objectives. At the early stages of these group formations, effective combined technical and business facilitation is key to finding a balance between business objectives and technical delivery.

Once balanced objectives are defined, an overall roadmap can be developed for long-term implementation. With cross-functional buy-in, the chances of successful implementation of Industry 4.0 is increased significantly, providing the focus required to drive the desired benefits for the business.

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