Smart Manufacturing: Expectation vs Reality

As with any new technology implementation, there can be a discrepancy between expectations and reality. Here, Reinaldo, Head of Digital Manufacturing and Automation, clarifies the reality of a smart manufacturing implementation to save you time and money.

Expectation: A lack of internal expertise does not matter.

Reality: Your team need to become knowledgeable and internal champions of Industry 4.0 technologies.

You are on the right path of if you have brought in an external expert to guide your business and people on your Industry 4.0 journey. Many manufacturers make the mistake of employing an experienced vendor or partner and then taking a step back. To ensure long-term success, it is critical to achieve support from the daily users of smart manufacturing solutions within your business. This is best achieved through offering effective training for your employees on the use of your new technologies. In the same way that you would train your employees regarding new operation of a new piece of machinery or a new process, you must provide on the job training so they are confident using new technologies.

Effective training also allows for the development of internal champions who will work to encourage other employees to embrace the new solution. Often times, manufacturers will experience hesitation when a new technology is deployed at their facility. As your technology partner or vendor will not have the same level of access to or influence as your employees, it is essential that you take the time to identify an initial group of employees who are open to change and enjoy being the early adopters of new processes and tools, and can act as internal change champions within your facility when a larger scale roll out takes place.

Expectation: An immediate return on investment is achievable

Reality: A more gradual return on investment is likely

It is critical to understand exactly what is involved in the technology implementation and the subsequent deployment at your facility. Implementing new technologies in your facility won’t solve all of your business challenges instantly. Instead, it will be a far more gradual process based on a continuous improvement approach. It is essential to prioritise the project and to get the right people involved from across your business. Everyone from your executive leadership teams to your line managers need to be onboard and share the same vision regarding the quick wins in the short-term (3-6 months) and the major gains in the long-term (1-5 years).

We encourage manufacturers to embrace the journey. There will be a series of learnings along the way. This is where your team will expand their own knowledge of your business processes and how technology can be intelligently deployed for maximum impact.

Another common misconception is that an Industry 4.0 technology deployment should be a one-off project, rather than an ongoing and staged continuous improvement project. Yes, it initially starts as a new capex project but as soon as it’s implemented, it should become an opex initiative, driven by an internal champion. This is essential as technology is consistently evolving, so your application of technology must continue developing also. Fortunately, this does not necessarily mean continuously investing in the latest technology. Instead, it can mean evolving your usage of the technologies in your current stack over time.

For example, during the first phases of your Industry 4.0 pilot project, the main goals were focused towards establishing connectivity and retrofitting your existing equipment and achieve real-time visualisation and reporting of your production performance. Basically, you are starting to know the unknowns.

Once this is in place and your team is able to master the continuous improvement process of implementing process changes and adjust production targets based on the new performance insights provided by the new technology, you are now able to start expanding the existing technology across other parts of your operations, for example equipment maintenance and/or production quality.

Expectation: Technology will solve all of my challenges

Reality: Automating a flawed process won’t drive efficiencies

The success of an Industry 4.0 implementation is influenced by the quality of processes within your business. Automating improper processes won’t lead to the desired efficiency gains expected from your new technology. For that reason, we encourage manufacturers to map out all of their processes and identify any potential inefficiencies before implementing an Industry 4.0 solution which interacts with these processes.

Industry 4.0 technologies are often toted as a business transformation tool. While it is a business transformation tool, it doesn’t have the power to make poor processes robust or to make bad data good data. For that reason, it is critical to pull together the manufacturing and process experts in your business to understand what is working and what needs improvement. The manufacturers who take this critical step prior to an implementation are well placed to draw maximum value from the technologies they implement.

Final Thoughts

As a manufacturer, it is critical to take those first steps on a smart manufacturing journey.

By embarking on this journey with a clear view of the reality that lies ahead, manufacturers can be assured in the potential of the solution.

For the champions of the smart manufacturing solution within a facility, you can now have confidence in the potential of the technologies in place.

Through effectively managing expectations at both a senior management and factory floor level, you can take steps to empower your team through a smart technology implementation that unlocks the potential of your manufacturing facility.

Reinaldo  Silva

Reinaldo Silva

Head of Digital Manufacturing & Automation

Reinaldo leads Facteon's digital manufacturing and automation team that is responsible for the development and implementation of our portfolio of digital products along with the delivery of robotics and automation projects for manufacturing industries. He works closely with our Principal Engineer and our R&D team on the development and validation of our Portfolio Extension roadmap that combines digital and engineering concepts and the application of emerging technologies, such as computer vision and AI, to solve complex manufacturing challenges.