Microsoft recently released a document entitled "2019 Manufacturing Trends Report" where it highlights a number of their views on how the emerging world of Industry 4.0, IoT and Data Science will impact major parts of today's production industry. The interesting thing is that the report combines the company's own experience in this emerging domain with a vast amount of information gathered by well known 'Market Analysis' moguls like Gartner, MarketsandMarkets, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, PwC, Deloitte, McKinsey, Capgemini, Boston Consulting Group and the like. The main value of the Microsoft report I find lies in the fact that it steps away from the high-level, fluffy and conceptual lingo often employed by those professional market researchers, and starts introducing a number of practical cases the people on the floor, like operators, line managers or maintenance professionals can relate to. This is an essential step in transforming this promise of the fourth industrial revolution from a popular topic in the ubiquitous 'Visionary Seminars' into a series of concrete implementations that have a positive impact on a company's daily operations.
Indeed: the image of 'The industrial revolution' is a blessing as well as a curse for today's companies. The outcome of this revolution is promised to be gigantic: a massive turnaround, overthrowing entire lines of business. The reality however is that today only a limited number of applications of Industry 4.0 has reached such a status yet. Some see this as a proof that this vision may as well be a fake one. They can however not be more wrong! As with most things in life, such a drastic change doesn't happen overnight. It is the result of a series of small steps, limited modifications, that over time all start having a positive impact on each other. This interaction in turn results in a further acceleration and a few months or years later the resulting true radical disruption suddenly becomes apparent to the outside world. At that moment the non-believers will only be left with the option to stare, in awe, at how their industry has changed forever without them being part of it.
Why are we so sure about this? Other than the desktop research and interviews conducted by the Market Analysis people, our experts spend their days in the trenches, in the factories and on production sites, co-developing and delivering actual Industry 4.0 solutions in a real industrial context. From all these projects we can deduce a set of similar observations:
- Many people still are convinced that it involves enormous investments and a significant time effort. The contrary is true. Today platform solutions are available that allow setting up a first workable version of a follow-up tool without jeopardising future scaling. A full end-to-end system, from sensor to information dashboard can be made available in a few hours and from that moment on the system can be expanded elastically towards more advanced analysis, additional data sources as well as extra machines to be followed-up.
- At the other side of the spectrum we encounter people that do not yet entirely see how all 'this new stuff' could be relevant for their business. This can lead to additional internal resistance. What we have observed is however that, when indeed starting off at a smaller scale, the situation rapidly evolves. When seeing the first dashboards and being confronted with the first predictions arising from the system, ideas start erupting. When seeing it actually applied, people much more easily see the link with their own daily job, or conceive a method where this follow-up with smart sensing and data analysis can solve an problem that has been bothering the organisation for far too long now.
- After starting up a first limited-scale project, we also observe the news starts traveling through the company. As such it is not seldom that a project initiated by the maintenance department catches the attention of production, as they notice that the more profound insight into the core workings of the machines opens up new pathways of making the process more efficient. As these new opportunities arise from within the organisation a fresh breeze of internal innovation kicks off, a concept very hard to nurture through classical means.
To summarise we can confidentially say that the next industrial revolution is here to stay. For those that want to make sure that their production company will still be around a few years from now, it's about time to start participating in it. Experience shows that this is very well possible in a stepwise approach, improving and expanding along the road. It is however quintessential to actually start off and rapidly offer sufficient freedom within the organisation for new ideas and options to sprout. Only like this, Industry 4.0 can evolve from an interesting concept into a realistic every day tool.
Source: Microsoft Report on Industry 4.0