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What's Holding up the Industry 4.0 Manufacturing Revolution?

As all the major players jockey for position to create the platform for the digital services around Industry 4.0 manufacturing, one wonders why this so-called revolution is not moving at the speed one might expect. At Hannover Messe in Hannover, Germany, this week, the manufacturing world is gathered to once more share a vision for a revolution that has been the main topic of discussion for years. But why aren’t we reviewing the case studies, proof points and the success it has promised but not yet delivered? Why isn’t the revolution in full swing?

Hannover Messe is put on each year by Deutsche Messe AG. It is the world’s largest industrial fair, and it attracts 250,000 attendees and more than 6,000 exhibitors.  The ingredient technologies seem to be in place and well-articulated. There are dozens of banners talking about Artificial Intelligence, Digital Twins, Augmented Reality, Robotics and much more. New buzzwords like Blockchain are entering the lexicon of debate, and huge players like AWS, Microsoft, Google and Intel are all talking about the digital building blocks and the data-driven platforms and ecosystems they are putting into place.

What we don’t see is anyone really articulating the value proposition for the brand, for the OEM and, perhaps most importantly, for the consumer. For industry to invest and adopt the ideals of Industry 4.0 with real enthusiasm, we need to properly understand the “why,” not just the “how.”

We all get excited about technology, but when used for its own sake it rarely yields genuine value. So, before we get into what’s new at Hannover Messe and how that will impact the smart factory of the future, it’s worth taking a minute or two to figure out what it’s all for.

Consumer & Customer Value

For us, it’s all about one thing -- added value. How can we use technology to make life better for our customers and for their customers, users or consumers? We see technology as something to enable or empower the brands we work with.

The factory of the future all stems from the digital transformation of manufacturing and the supply chain; in fact, it stems from the digitization of the whole value chain from idea to industrialization. The benefits from the fourth industrial revolution really fall into a few categories. The first is how we perform as a manufacturing partner, and that’s all about efficiency and agility. The digital factory should produce more efficient, more repeatable and more robust processes, all fueled by data and all using deep learning to improve individual processes and overall performance.

Agility comes when that data is available in real-time to those who can use it to make better and faster decisions. Those are the decisions that empower brands to pivot quickly when demand changes, to respond to supply chain disruption, or to move production when the political winds blow in a different direction. Technology should deliver agility, and that agility should empower that of the brands we work with to create and deliver products that change lives.

Agility and efficiency also deliver a shorter time to market for new products and greater flexibility to build in lower volume. Lot size of one is an important element of industry 4.0 manufacturing, and this offers mass customization opportunities for brands where unique products add real value.

Beyond all the economic and product benefits, the digital factory has a clear benefit to the environment. Every technology we implement to make us more efficient, or to shorten the supply chain, or to remove waste, has a positive impact on the environment, something very close to our heart.

So, bring on the new technology, bring on the data, but let’s not forget what we’re all here for and why all this cool technology matters. It’s all about improving the outcomes for patients, the lives of an aging and ever-more urban population and delivering the products that will change lives more efficiently and more effectively.

Industry 4.0 manufacturing must deliver the agility that empowers the brands that change the world.