By Bjorn Dahle, KIC President
When we first discussed Industry 4.0 four or five years ago it really was all talk. Even three years ago a lot of manufacturers didn’t really know how it impacted them and most vendors were using it on their marketing material without even knowing what it really meant or how to deliver it. Now that’s all changed and the proverbial rubber is meeting the road and as well as talking the talk, the industry is finally and collectively, walking the walk.
From a very high level, manufacturers are seeing the value. They understand that it can drive savings and efficiencies as well as improving their quality and other performance measures. What’s more, they have seen what it means to their customers, particularly those large brands who are demanding more data, more traceability, more transparency and more smarts from their entire supply chain.
There is a growing perception that successful manufacturers will want to adopt Industry 4.0 for its benefits. The truth is they must embrace it to satisfy customer demands. For a long time the battleground for the EMS industry has been who’s the cheapest or the largest, now it’s who’s the smartest. Industry 4.0 is how they become the smartest, the quickest, the most agile and the most reliable.
As a business driven by data, we saw the value of Industry 4.0 immediately. It was like everyone was finally on the same page as us and we even had a name for what we’d been trying to do with data. But that wasn’t enough. Having the desire to achieve Industry 4.0 is a start, but is not going to deliver solutions. Fast forward a couple of years and just about every machine or software vendor was on the band-wagon developing products and selling parts of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. What’s more, we didn’t even know what the completed puzzle was supposed to look like.
I think like everyone we were searching for our place in the Industry 4.0 ecosystem, looking to be the system provider as well as the domain expert. It’s no coincidence that the Smart Factory is sometime referred to as the connected factory. It depends entirely on the ‘connected’ whole being greater than the sum of the parts. It’s important to identify your part. Our part is thermal processes and everything that goes with that. We have the domain expertise and experience to measure, communicate and process thermal data, and we think we’re the best in the world at it. We also have the skills to predict the thermal profile needed, and to use data in our own process and beyond. This is where we add value. This is our place in the Industry 4.0 ecosystem.
Everything that isn’t our place, that we can’t add value, we partner and collaborate. And just as our domain expertise is essential to success, so is an environment where everyone is collaborating for a common goal. Whether it’s through desire or necessity, we find ourselves in a time of great collaboration in manufacturing technology. I suspect people finally realized they can’t do it all themselves, but teamwork around projects like the Hermes and CFX standards has been as impressive as it is important.
Knowing our place and understanding the whole process led us to develop our Smart Factory Starter Kit and deploy it in the market in a focused, manageable way that delivers exactly what it promises. What it also delivers is probably the simplest and cheapest way to learn how to deploy Industry 4.0 in your facility, with measurable key performance indicators and return on investments.
Not all Industry 4.0 projects are the same, but they do have much in common. One is the need to set targets, like KPIs and ROI, and to measure them. Another is to ensure you get buy-in from all departments within the business. The smart factory will impact your company and your people. Learning how to deal with change and the human factor is paramount. Industry 4.0 succeeds at the intersection of IT and operations, so they are key participants. And another is to be realistic about the process, keeping an open mind and open protocols to allow you some level of flexibility on your journey.
What we believed when we launched the solution is that the Smart Factory Starter Kit also provides the path to the next, and larger, Industry 4.0 deployment. We’ve learned plenty on our journey over recent years. We’ve applied those lessons to the development of our starter kit and other products, and we’re sharing that experience with our partners and customers.
Deep domain knowledge allows us to use data to glean insight that is actionable, delivering improvements in line utilization, production cost, quality, power usage, process traceability, automation, optimization and much more. Good data is essential and that data moves in many directions, being shared by other systems and machines, such as MES, ERP, on-line dashboards and perhaps customers. Software has moved in leaps and bounds in recent years. It’s no longer the domain of geeks with limited social skill working from a dark basement. Most systems are now configurable by the operator or process manager, delivering real-time information where it’s needed.
The next level for software application is AI (Artificial Intelligence), providing predicative maintenance, analytics that can help select the ultimate recipe from billions of options, and progressing towards the lights out factory. This shifts the focus to the outcome rather than the data, which after all is what we’re all looking for. Using AI to teach rather than program is extraordinarily appealing. It’s all about getting the best from the data and delivering the best possible product at the lowest cost.
If I had to boil our experience, and that of the customers who have used the starter kit, down to a few pearls of wisdom, I’d underline the importance of open collaboration. I’d suggest starting with a small, manageable and measurable project and taking a pragmatic approach. The Industry 4.0 rubber has well and truly hit the road and the wheels are now turning at speed.