Industry 4.0 Insights: Top Smart Manufacturing Trends You Need to Know

Today marks 12 months since the launch and commercialisation of Facteon’s Industrial IoT product range. In that time, our Industrial IoT team has quadrupled in size and capability. We have also launched our products across the globe (that’s the beauty of the Cloud).

To celebrate our first birthday, we thought we should share our learnings from our initial implementations. We'll also look ahead to predict the top smart manufacturing trends on the horizon for the next 12 months.

It goes without saying that we are delighted to see many manufacturers becoming more knowledgeable of and receptive to the power of Industry 4.0 technologies. Whether you manufacture in the appliance; automotive; medical; food and beverage; or any other industry for that matter, Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT are and will continue to shape the manufacturing sector.

It’s concerning that the level and speed of adoption is still low globally. The latest research indicates that of the manufacturers aware of Industry 4.0, less than 5% are at the implementation stage of their Industry 4.0 journey. We speculate that the explanation for this statistic is two-fold. In part, it’s likely due to the quiet rise of Industry 4.0 and related Industrial IoT technologies. The other factor we suspect is at play is the required strategic planning, technology integration and informed mitigation of business risk. Many manufacturers are unaware that you can’t simply integrate new technology and expect real change without ensuring your facility is Industry 4.0-ready.

If you only take one point away from this article, it should be that there is a limited window before Industry 4.0 technologies become essential to compete in the manufacturing sector. Many manufacturers will say, “We never saw it coming”. But there are always signs of the impending rise of any movement. The thing is, Facteon knows how to identify these signs. Most importantly, we know what action a manufacturer needs to take to thrive in this new era.

The trends below are discussed in priority order to deliver clarity to manufacturers looking to start their Industry 4.0 journey.


1. Process Transformation

Adoption of technology for technology’s sake is a wasted investment. That’s why the first step in preparing for your Industry 4.0 journey is a strategic review of your current manufacturing processes. Businesses are more likely to succeed and be better equipped to reap the rewards of Industry 4.0 technologies if a standardised lean manufacturing process is in place. As with any organisational change, you need to start with the people. Employees must understand why business as usual will be disrupted. Change is imminent and will lead to cross-team collaboration with the goal of developing collective intelligence within your business. Siloed behaviours are the ultimate hindrance on your Industry 4.0 journey. So, get your team involved and inspired early.

Getting your team enthused can be tough. For that reason, we recommend the engagement of an external, expert consultant. We’ve used consultants across our business here at Facteon. Manufacturers need an impartial party and a voice of reason to cut through the cries of, “We’ve been doing it this way for years, why now?” The reality is that your business must act now, or you may find it's not around in another ten years. An external consultant delivers what you can’t; an unwavering focus on getting your business Industry 4.0-ready.


2. Cloud Computing

Once you’ve achieved buy-in from your team, you can start to explore the latest technologies and trends, such as Cloud computing. It’s a key IT tool that drove the pioneers of Industry 4.0 technology to realise the potential in bringing IT and Operating Technologies (OT) together. This convergence is central to Industrial IoT. The opportunities to integrate Industrial IoT technologies are numerous and varied. Data can be collected from a manufacturer’s industrial control system on your factory floor, for example. Then, this data is transformed into information that a manufacturer can interpret to make operational decisions. Furthermore, this data can be analysed, transformed and predicted at scale using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. 

It’s reassuring to know that many of the manufacturers who are knowledgeable about Industry 4.0 have already adopted Cloud computing as part of their overall IT infrastructure. The main driver is often a desire to use AI technologies in the near future.


3. Smart Data

“Data is the new oil” and “More data equals more value”. These statements are only true when data is clean, accurate and accessible. This also needs to be a facet of an overall information strategy. In the same way that using buzz words doesn’t necessarily indicate real knowledge, using data capture tools in a superficial way does not add value to your operations. It simply costs a manufacturer in two important currencies; time and money. 

On the point of data accuracy, it’s impossible to make good business decisions from bad data. This concern has pushed many manufacturers to invest in the implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to collate and store data at a central location. This streamlines operations and automates decision making. Prior to the commercialisation of proven Industry 4.0 technologies, ERP and IT systems operated without any integration with OT on the factory floor.

A common pain point is the disconnect between IT and OT systems. Industrial IoT technologies are key to bridging this gap and elevating the challenges of disconnected factory systems. Industrial IoT technologies reduce the time and costs associated with the manual processes of maintaining disconnected IT and OT systems.

A by-product of connecting IT and OT systems is the increase in efficiency that comes from data being transformed into information in real-time. There’s significant benefit to making decisions based on actual information, rather than assumptions or outdated data.

Another advantage that manufacturers will experience in the medium to long-term is the ability to identify and implement data monetisation strategies. This comes in the form of new business models, selling data as products or layering new services within existing offerings, delivering a more personalised experience to customers and so on.

Manufacturers will only be able to take advantage of these benefits if they’re aware exactly where their data flows, both internally and externally. They must also engage with an Industry 4.0 technology partner to ensure that new digital initiatives are future-proof.


4. Security

Due to the introduction of internet connectivity and data storage in the Cloud infrastructure, security is a common concern for manufacturers at every stage of the Industry 4.0 adoption journey. Rest assured; cloud-based systems have been widely used across many industries for over a decade. The security advancements during this time mean that manufacturers can safely adopt Cloud computing without putting their business and data at risk.

Suitable security implementations include data encryption using the latest stable version of the Transport Layer Security (TLS 1.3) protocol based on Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) at its maximum level, 256 bits, to achieve a military level standard of security.

Other recommended security implementations include data encryption in transit (when data is transferred) and at rest (that’s data stored in a database) across all layers and automated rotation of Industrial IoT security certificates to ensure that only verified devices can connect to your systems.


5. Artificial Intelligence

AI is a game changer. The ability to enable manufacturing equipment to self-diagnose is a significant advantage delivered by only Industrial IoT technologies. Machines can also predict and notify staff of an impending breakdown. Your maintenance team is alerted of an issue the moment it’s detected by the system. Then, your team can address the issue immediately. Manufacturers avoid sacrificing product quality while also minimising downtime. Early detection ensures that if your team does decide to postpone maintenance to a more convenient time, there’s a buffer zone in which maintenance can take place before product quality is impacted. This is all possible with Machine Learning technologies, a subset of AI. 

Once a manufacturer has harnessed Machine Learning technologies, it may decide to incorporate Deep Learning into its facility. This is a subset of Machine Learning that analyses data with a logical structure that imitates the human brain (this imitation is called Artificial Neural Network). The recognition of patterns and the automation of decision making based on predictive reasoning is the end goal of this technology.

If you’re not currently using Machine Learning and deep learning technologies, you’re not alone. AI technologies are still in their infancy. However, the efficiencies and competitive advantages that have been identified and validated to date by early adopters have proven the potential of the technology. We predict this technology will become a manufacturing facility staple in the coming years. Watch this space.


6. Computer Vision

Just like artificial intelligence, computer vision is poised to disrupt the manufacturing industry. It has the ability to replace current machine vision systems by leveraging the capabilities of artificial intelligence. Computer vision is a powerful technology with the potential to replace the human eye in a manufacturing facility. The latest computer vision cameras to hit the market automatically capture, store and analyse multiple product images. This process occurs in less than one second.

Some of the business problems that can be solved today in a more scalable and cost-effective manner with computer vision solutions include quality control through the analysis of measurements; colour and text detection and analysis; as well as readability analysis of barcodes and QR codes.

With big players, such as Intel, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla, operating in this space and investing in R&D, we’re certain this technology is on the up. With many competitors in the space, computer vision solutions will only become more affordable and more sophisticated.


Final Thoughts

Now you know, Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT technologies are at the heart of smart manufacturing and digital transformation. There’s no time like the present to start on your Industry 4.0 adoption journey. This is a unique journey as there’s no fixed end point. It’s okay to start your journey and not be entirely sure where your business will end up.

However, to ensure your business is always moving in the ‘right’ direction, you need an experienced and qualified Industry 4.0 technology partner. The first step in your Industry 4.0 journey with Facteon is an Industry 4.0 readiness assessment. This is an audit of your current situation. We’ll work with your manufacturing managers, operations managers and factory staff to assess what you have and what you need.

It’s not too late to start your Industry 4.0 journey. But at some point, it will be. Early adopters are already reaping the rewards. They’re first in line to take advantage of the latest technology. Whenever you start your Industry 4.0 journey, you’ll be playing catch up. If you don’t start playing catch up soon, your business may not survive.

The Facteon advantage is rooted in modern technology delivered by a manufacturing organisation that's been there. We also have a dedicated Industrial IoT team that builds, integrates and supports Industrial IoT hardware and software solutions for manufacturers of all sizes. We’ll be there every step of the way.


We're on our Industry 4.0 journey. Are you ready to start yours?

Reach out to Reinaldo


Reinaldo  Silva

Reinaldo Silva

Head of Operational Excellence

Reinaldo is the Head of Operational Excellence responsible for Business Intelligence, Digital and Project Delivery. Since 2018 he has been helping Facteon and its customers to transform their business operations through the implementation of Industry 4.0 and digital transformational technologies.