Terms such as Industry 4.0., Digital Factory, Connected Industry or Factory of the Future have been gaining voice in recent months. They form part of the universal mantra of digital transformation. Yet, are industrial firms truly aware of this change? And, more importantly, are they clear about how and with whom they must tackle this process?
The major technological consulting firms are warning that the modernisation of the manufacturing sector is not an option or a trend, moreover, it is a train which you must board if you wish to remain in the market.
Against this backdrop, successful executives from the world of the organisation of industrial manufacturing have plunged into the digital ocean, with results of all types. There are those who have spared no costs to seek out standard solutions offered by major technological companies to embark upon transformation in a comprehensive manner. While others, with less resources on-hand, though with certain urgency, have chosen to digitise or automate processes simply because it must be done. The result: a more modern factory that is equally productive.
The first question that the industrialists should ask themselves is: why is it vital to become digitised?
What has been referred to as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is idiosyncratic insomuch as it has reached individuals before companies, something that had never happened beforehand. When the steam engine was invented, nobody had one in their homes and its usage was restricted to mass transportation and large-scale industries. The first computer took up an entire room and was in the possession of a major company. However, nowadays, we carry a mobile in our pockets equipped with a powerful GPS and full HD video camera, broadcasting and receiving data incessantly.
The crux of the matter is that taking technology to industry might involve an enormous revolution in both spheres: the process and the product. With regard to the first, technology can help us to manufacture more with the same resources or produce the same in less time. Sometimes, both are the result. The sensorisation of a productive plant will contribute to its enhanced maintenance, foreseeing mistakes and errors on the part of the machinery and streamlining the decision-making process by having access to greater information. Automation is accomplished via robotics and provides security, quality and reduced processing times.
Yet it is of the utmost importance to tackle transformation from a holistic approach. If the process is not optimised per se, even if it is digitised, it will remain insufficient, albeit digital. This means that technology is not always the solution, indeed, most of the time it is merely the icing on the cake.
One must study very closely which case applies to business, as what experience suggests is that the majority of the savings or inefficiencies can be solved through actions that would be described as “analogue”.
With regard to the product, the imagination is the limit. There are already highly interesting success stories, such as the mix of cereals a la carte or connected sports shoes. In foodstuffs, it is unusual for a product not to come with a QR code on the label that transports you into an environ of customer loyalty through promotions, discounts or information. Shifting from mere marketing to genuinely useful information for the production chain is much more complex and costly, though this must by the final aim.
A wise decision when seeking out a good partner for digital transformation of industry is to look for companies who are well-versed in the activity, who know how to identify issues within the plant from an engineering-based perspective and who boast the specialist technology that can convert these inefficiencies into opportunities from which digital transformation can be tackled.
Proper management of the change, starting with the process instead of technology and tackling the issue from the real case-study of the business are the sole ingredients with which Spanish industry can forge its own digital future.