Transformation to 4.0

Let’s face it: there is a whole lot of existing infrastructure in factories around the world. Going from day-to-day, getting it done to Industry 4.0 will take technology, vision and leadership.

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With the ongoing discussions of “Industry 4.0” or “Manufacturing 4.0,” it seems as though some epochal transformation will be coming to a factory near you sooner rather than later, a transformation that’s going to occur in some manner analogous to Optimus Prime going from a Peterbilt to a giant robot: snap, snick, snap. But it is going to take a whole lot more than that movie magic to make factory transformations.

The 4.0, in case you haven’t been counting, starts at 1.0, which was when it went from hand crafting to the mechanization of manufacturing; 2.0, which was the launch of mass production processes; 3.0 is when things became more computerized, and, 4.0, where there are “cyber physical systems,” which essentially means that there will be machines communicating with machines (yes, and people, too) such that adjustments to prevailing conditions can be made on the fly.

To get a sense of this transformation we talk with Fred Thomas, DELMIA Apriso Director, Discrete Manufacturing Industries at Dassault Systèmes (www.3ds.com). Thomas has been promoting for a number of years the transformation of manufacturing via software and communications such that there is a synchronization of machines and materials, processes, and people, internal (as in workers) as well as external (as in customers) executed so there is the production of high quality products. Planning, modeling, optimization, and timely execution are all considerations.

Thomas says that there is a range of operations that he’s worked at during the past several years. Places where digital investments are low. The networks are basic. The systems are disconnected. The software is a legacy system from way back in the day. Thomas says—and he insists he’s not making this up—that in some cases the person running the system—chances are the only guy in the factory who knows how it all works—is looking for parts on eBay to keep it going.

But there is a benefit to systems like that. “They work. They made it work. A lot of times they have to muscle things to achieve results,” Thomas says. But they get products out the door. And he thinks that it is important that they get toward a 4.0 existence through a staged approach rather than a big-bang deployment.

“Many take a thin slice of functionality based on business priorities, on functional need,” he says. Then, over time, they stack the slices.

Thomas cites a place that they’ve recently implemented the manufacturing operations management solution, the Cummins Darlington Engine Plant in the U.K., a midsize diesel plant that he describes as being “paper-driven.” It’s easy to forget that Excel is the tech of choice in plenty of plants.

Here’s the thing. Darlington Engine was not a bad plant. But it could become a better plant. So, Thomas says, they went in and implemented the system. And among the results are a reduction of defects, within three months, by 90 percent, and an increase in production, after six months, of more than 25 percent.

No, they didn’t buy a lot of measuring machines and truck loads of new machine tools. There were some new controllers so that there could be communications among machines and PLCs. Some manufacturing technology upgrades, primarily to provide transparency and visibility of processes on the shop floor (which allowed them to see bottlenecks and to make adjustments, digitally, in a real-time environment).

One of the concerns that Thomas has regarding the general conversation surrounding Industry 4.0 is that it is too focused on the amount of data—Big Data or otherwise—that is generated. “During all of the conversations I’ve had over the past several months, no one has said ‘I don’t have enough data.’ What they don’t have is insight into the data.”

And what they need, Thomas says, is a business case that will convince them that making change makes economic sense: “You have to see real dollars in the value proposition.”

Although it might seem as though we’ll be entering Industry 4.0 at some sort of hyper speed, Thomas doesn’t think so. He says he’s been working with an OEM and had the opportunity to visit an assembly plant for “a large component in vehicles,” a plant where the production is in excess of 500,000 a year.
“The complexity of systems used to create that product is mind-boggling. This is not something that gets fixed, changed, improved overnight.

“I believe in five years we’ll still be transitioning to the next generation of manufacturing capability. Five years from now we may have some smaller companies who have the self-adjusting environment, where the machines have context, know what the surrounding machines are doing and adjust accordingly. But for most organizations, it will be a transition stage.”

One of the things that gets little attention in all of this discussion of The Future of Manufacturing is something that has been key in 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and, yes, 4.0: leadership.

Thomas says that it is fundamental for there to be an understanding of the technology, for there to be a strategy and a vision that will elevate an organization “to the next transformational level in manufacturing.”

Thomas points out: “That has to be led and pushed by an executive sponsor. Companies need a leader who will push the vision and strategy.”

Without it, there may be a lot of tech. But as advanced as it may be, its effectiveness is likely not to be what it could or should be, regardless of what it’s called.