Since the term ‘Industry 4.0’ entered our vocabulary five or six years ago, we have worked with many companies, both clients and partners, to create platforms that support their goals and deliver the ROI (Return on Investment) they are looking for. Here are a few of our tips for creating a solid and successful Industry 4.0 or IIoT strategy.
An IIoT or Industry 4.0 strategy isn’t one-size-fits-all, it’s a tailored solution. That’s why we like to first focus on diagnosis, to understand exactly where a manufacturer is and where they want, or expect, to get to. Everything starts from a detailed understanding of what systems are in place, what is working and what should be replaced. This is followed by exploration of what everyone hopes to achieve and why. Understanding the current state, the targets and the motivation for implementing IIoT or Industry 4.0 are all essential in the creation of a plan.
Once that diagnosis is complete we can look at where we are and where we want to get to, and analyze how to get there. This gap analysis ensures we focus effort and resources in the areas of real need and where we can maximize impact and return on investment.
2. A Solid Foundation
Industry 4.0 must be built on a solid foundation. Getting the right elements in place at the start is essential to allow the construction of a solid structure on top. Many of the elements that create that foundation are mentioned below, like solid data protocols and storage, machine to machine communications, factory wide infrastructure, data security and much more. But it’s important not to get bogged down in the details at this point and stall before you’ve even begun. The hardest step along any path is the first one and this has never been truer than in a factory-wide project that will eventually impact every part of the business.
Solid foundations need teamwork and a company-wide commitment to moving along the path to Industry 4.0. Buy-in from every level of management from the top down is essential, as is that of the shop floor team.
Operators need to feel that the strategy is there to help them, not replace them. IIoT requires the collaboration of operations and IT, and as such these teams need to share the same goals and a real desire to work together to create success and value for the business, its customers and its vendors or partners.
3.Data Collection, Storage and Security
I know we talk a lot about data, but the adage of ‘garbage in equals garbage out’ is as true as it has ever been. Data integrity is a cornerstone of any automation strategy. Using algorithms to process big data can mask glaring errors or outliers that humans might recognize and respond to. Good data is not just important for the integrity of information and decision making, it is essential for traceability, another cornerstone of Industry 4.0.
Data collection needs to be accurate and needs to be stored securely and in a format that ensures that it can be processed properly. This means defined communication standards, reporting protocols and middleware that normalize and structure the data collected from the shop floor, so it can be used by other systems.
Databases and tables must be structured in such a way that data can stored and retrieved in a very short timeframe by different applications.
4.There’s more to Industry 4.0 than Standards
Every industry needs standards and a data driven strategy needs standards even more, but it is not realistic to expect one industry standard to answer all the needs of the industry. In practice, many standards already exist and several new ones are under development. Open minded pragmatism is a character trait at Cogiscan and one we think is essential, not just to our own success, but to that of our customers.
Whether its consortia, machine and software companies, or trade associations that deliver the standards that people adopt, it is important to know that your strategy, and the system to install, can adapt quickly to change. It is also important to understand that there is more to it than simply machine interfaces. You also need software integration that allows multiple systems to work together seamlessly.
You’ll want to connect new ‘smart’ machines to your ecosystem seamlessly, as well as legacy machines that perhaps do not have the ability to use new standards. In short, standards are important, but taking an open, agnostic approach will make you more secure and future proof.
5. Keep Your Eyes and Your Options Open
To my point on standards, I am convinced that an open-minded approach is essential. Closing of options because of the selection of a single standard or a single vendor’s solution puts you at risk of becoming locked into a single path, or worse an obsolete one.
We are constantly looking for the next big thing to impact our industry and our products, but we’re smart enough to realize that we cannot fulfill all the future needs of the industry. No single company is big enough to offer every solution for every need, so taking a pragmatic approach and maintaining a watchful eye on the industry should allow you to take advantage of new solutions, wherever they come from. This will only work if you create an ecosystem that doesn’t box you in.
6. Maximize the Value of Existing Solution Before Investing in New Ones
It’s exciting to buy new equipment, install new software and apply new ideas, but sometime there’s a lot to be gained from existing equipment and solutions. Most factories have a wide range of automation and software systems in place. This took a lot of time and effort to implement and most production managers won’t want to remove and replace it all at once. Apart from being very expensive this kind of approach can be disruptive to operators and operations.
Identify the current situation and the desired state. Do the gap analysis I mentioned earlier and try to get as much value as possible from what you already have before heading to the next trade show with your check book. A successful strategy considers what is available before promoting new investment.
7. Look for real ROI and Measure it
Industry 4.0 should deliver, if it doesn’t why bother? At the offset of any discussion we have on the topic of automation, smart factory, IIoT or Industry 4.0 is the need to understand our customers goals and how to measure them. An Industry 4.0 strategy is not without costs, and these costs can vary from modest, focused projects, to large company wide projects that change the way an entire business operates. Regardless of size, these projects all need to have an ROI calculation built into the program along with the tools and systems to measure the outcome.
It is often practical to start with a smaller or more focused project that allows you to learn how to apply Industry 4.0 in the real world and in your business. This means putting the team together, building a plan, and executing it. Look for success in the first project you do and don’t make the barrier to that success too high or too far in the future. Pick a project where you can see and measure ROI, and you can learn about how your own business and team respond to change. Use this pilot project to iron out some creases, perhaps creating an internal focus team that can go on to deploy bigger and better projects, or mentor other teams.
8. Collaboration is Essential
It really is all about collaboration in Industry 4.0. Whether it’s collaboration between machines, collaboration between departments, like IT and operations, and even collaborations between companies, people and robots. I talked about a pragmatic open-minded approach, but this goes even further. I firmly believe that the companies that will have the greatest success are not those that are closed and hanging on to their technology, insisting customers buy every solution from them. The companies that succeed will be the most open companies – open to new ideas, open to try new things and open to new partnerships and collaborations.
We’ve always considered our partners to be amongst our greatest assets, and the trends around Industry 4.0 have proven that to be the case. Being fiercely collaborative up and down the value chain has made us a more agile business, and it can do the same for your Industry 4.0 strategy and, in turn, for your business.
These are just a few of our observations from the front-line where we live and breathe IIoT and Industry 4.0 every day, but there’s more to it and there’s more to come. New technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning and Augmented Reality (AR) are all likely to impact on our industry in the coming years, and that’s perhaps why I think the most important of our tips is to be open, to be open-minded, and to be open to collaboration.