If COVID-19 has taught manufacturing anything, it’s that what once worked before will not continue to work in the future. Between offshore production, human-centric and manual production processes, and a head-in-the-sand attitude towards new technology, it’s no surprise that our national supply chain and manufacturing sector have suffered.
With pandemic-driven manufacturing fire drills, a focus on new technology and future improvements has fallen to the wayside. While new technology has continued to evolve and develop, the few manufacturers who are willing to implement have only dabbled with small investments and initiatives in a non-committal way. Few manufacturers are seizing the opportunity to leverage proven, mature Industry 4.0 technology and processes to modernize their outdated infrastructures. In stalling, they are missing out on valuable opportunities, including automated manpower, remote monitoring, data driven decisions, sustainable manufacturing principles, and overall production resilience and flexibility.
You have the chance to do it right.
With this new reality as our backdrop, we’ve created a list of tips and tricks for manufacturers who are willing and eager to implement new technology on their plant floors. With our team members working on Industry 4.0 projects as end users, partners, vendors, and consultants, we understand the challenges manufacturers face. Now as a System Integrator, our team is able to leverage our unique and diverse work experiences to help provide a strategic advantage for our customers.
Here's what our team has learned while leading Industry 4.0 projects throughout their careers:
1. False starts are worse and more destructive than spending the time and money needed to do it right.
Many manufacturers take a fragmented approach, dipping their toes into Industry 4.0 with small pilots and investments without having any clear goals or direction. With the ever-mounting demands and pressures within the manufacturing industry, it can be hard to prioritize future planning - but it is so important. Instead of jumping right in, take the time and energy needed to create clear plans and goals rather than just rushing in blindly. Read more about how you should start a modernization journey here: Phase Zero - Five Foundational Steps towards Modernization.
2. In order to modernize your plant floor, you don't need to scrap everything and start from zero.
With the current supply chain issues and increased production demands, there are many brownfield opportunities available for manufacturers. Focus on how to get more out of your existing assets vs. purchasing flashy new equipment or technology. An SI can help provide insight on what equipment and software upgrades are available and how far you can take your existing equipment, thus helping you make more informed and cost-effective decisions for your facility.
3. Leverage your System Integrator (SI).
While you can bring a large, expensive consultant in to provide guidance and tell you what to do, often times your SI can provide the same value with more immediate impact because they understand your operations as well as you do. Also, your SI knows your systems, processes, and goals at an intimate level and can help justify costs and plan for future projects in a way that a consultant is limited. As an added bonus, an SI will actually help see the project through to completion instead of stepping out before work actually begins.
4. Determine and own your systems and process - don't let vendors dictate what you do.
Seek guidance from a trusted, platform-agnostic SI when deciding on technology or systems with a vendor. In the same way you wouldn't represent yourself in court, an SI can help ensure that your needs are represented and you are making the right technology choice, without having any skin in the game. In the same strand, you do not need to be locked into one vendor.
5. Plan and design your system for scalability.
We use the acronym RUMSS internally when designing a process control network (a necessary foundation for any digital transformation effort). RUMSS stands for repeatable, upgradeable, modular, scalable, and secure. By considering all of these factors when starting your journey, you can have confidence that you've started in the right place.
6. Infrastructure is critical to flexibility and resilience going forward.
You wouldn't put lipstick on a pig. In the same way, adding new technology when your network is weak or unsecure or your equipment is outdated can cause future problems down the road. Get your facility ready before jumping in. If you’re unsure where to start, begin with an assessment and a GAP analysis. Then you’ll have a better understanding of your current condition and what issues need to be resolved.
7. Start with the outcome you want.
Write your ideal press release and then work backwards. Do you want to increase production by 10%, improve network availability to 99.9%, make data-led decisions, automate labor? Picture your ideal outcome and make it your end goal.
8. Industry 4.0 is ready for manufacturers of all sizes.
Industry 4.0 technologies can scale to fit implementations of any size. Where emerging smart manufacturing tech was once reserved for those manufacturers who had deep enough pockets or a dedicated team, in today’s market this same technology is accessible for all manufacturing applications and budgets.
9. Consider Sustainable Manufacturing.
There is a societal push toward companies adopting sustainable and resilient manufacturing operations through energy efficiency, climate action plans, and carbon neutral operations. While these can seem like unachievable, costly ideals, new technology can achieve these outcomes while also driving business results, competitive advantage, and people retention.
10. There are many free or low cost resources and federal programs available to help guide manufacturers.
Do research into what is available in your area and leverage these resources!
Interested in talking with Ryan or Mike about their past Industry 4.0 projects? Drop us a line below and we'll get you connected!
With experience leading Industry 4.0 projects as a Senior Staff Manufacturing Systems Engineer at Kennametal, a Global Process Control Engineer at PPG, and as a Technical Consulting Manager at Gray Matter Systems, Mike has truly seen and experienced it all.
Previously serving as the Global Business Director of Software at Rockwell Automation and the Product General Manager of Data Management at General Electric, Ryan has led, overseen, and helped develop IoT technology and Industry 4.0 projects as a partner, vendor, system integrator, and end user.
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