A survey by The Manufacturer magazine earlier this year found that 62% of manufacturing businesses—almost two-thirds—were either ‘aware’ or ‘very aware’ of Industry 4.0. For a term that wasn’t coined until 2011, that’s quite remarkable.
Despite which, there is still confusion about what exactly Industry 4.0 is, and what it offers to manufacturing businesses.
Here at Kerridge Commercial Systems, we think that some element of confusion is understandable. As with any new business paradigm, it takes time for a shared sense of understanding to emerge.
But we’re in no doubt as to what Industry 4.0 offers manufacturers. The answer: a lot.
1 + 1 = 3
Let’s briefly reprise the basics. The term ‘Industry 4.0' is a reference to Industry 4.0 being the fourth industrial revolution, following the three prior industrial revolutions heralded by steam and water power, electricity, and electronics.
Granted, that doesn’t help us understand what it is. But it does help us to understand the scale of Industry 4.0’s impact.
Because Industry 4.0 is a fusion of a number of significant and emerging technologies: Big Data, advanced analytics, the Internet of Things, digital modelling, additive manufacturing, computer-integrated manufacturing and so on.
And the idea is that combined together, in innovative ways, they add up to a lot more than the sum of the parts.
Put another way, with Industry 4.0, manufacturing businesses can do things that they couldn’t do before.
Greater connectivity through the Internet of Things, for instance, brings smart manufacturing, with sensors and controllers on factory floors communicating with each other, and central control systems.
Remote monitoring and control becomes a practical proposition, as does ‘cobotics’—humans and robots working together, side by side. If the term ‘cobotics’ is new to you, check out my recent blog What the rise of the cobot means for your manufacturing business
This connectivity extends right along the supply chain. Think of new business models such as servitization, for instance, or devices on customers’ and suppliers’ premises ‘calling home’ for replenishment, or maintenance. Already, remotely-triggered maintenance is reaching homes and factories, thanks to Internet of Things-powered diagnostics.
And that Internet of Things connectivity isn’t just about transmitting simple transactions: thanks to advanced analytics and Big Data analysis, Industry 4.0 permits manufacturers to analyse sensor data for new and powerful insights—insights into their manufacturing processes, as well as insights into customer behaviour.
And that’s just a few applications of Industry 4.0, a glimpse seen at the beginning of the revolution. As with the three previous revolutions, there will be many more applications, as Industry 4.0 develops in ways that we can’t yet anticipate.
All of which will inevitably put a strain on manufacturers’ ERP systems. For a start, they will need to be open to greater connectivity, greater analytics, and new business models.
Longer term, too, it’s likely that the distinction between ERP, CRM and MES systems will blur, as Industry 4.0 delivers more data on which to base decisions.
Either way, there’s the potential for manufacturers to steal a march on their competition by making sure that their manufacturing systems are poised to exploit the opportunities that Industry 4.0 will throw up.
And here at Kerridge Commercial Systems, we’re already hard at work, building just such systems.