Industry 4.0 was first defined in 2011 as “the widespread integration of information and communication technology in industrial production.”
However, many UK manufacturers are still using outdated automation processes and have failed to adapt these into the digital way of doing things; our experience is that businesses often approach automation reactively and from the wrong starting point.
For example, it may be that a business has identified high labour costs on one specific line and therefore wants to automate these processes. Alternatively, they may be struggling to fill vacancies and therefore see automation as a means of mitigating labour shortage problems in labour-intensive areas.
Whatever the scenario, looking at part of a process as a silo without considering the bigger picture is almost always detrimental to the end result; we have often seen line OEE actually drop following automation due to insufficient planning and consideration of the bigger picture.
So where should businesses start?
The most important first step is to conduct a gap analysis for automation readiness, not just considering business requirements but looking right across the business.
What is the appetite for Industry 4.0 automation?
Are senior leaders bought in?
Which teams will be working on the project and do they have the necessary skillsets or require upskilling?
What external support will be required? Is further auxiliary technology needed to support semi-skilled people in performing more skilled work?
What sources of funding are or could be available?
What will success look like and how can we benchmark and measure it to compare the before and after?
Failing to consider the readiness for automation from a variety of angles at the outset is the most common reason for poor ROI on automation projects.
The next thing to approach is the roadmap resulting from the gap analysis.
It is very important to spend sufficient time planning the roadmap. The gap analysis and size of the business will inform this. However, it is vital to follow the process through to ensure maximum benefit. For example, working with a £30m company with three production lines, we would probably spend up to a month working on the gap analysis and roadmap. We would then expect that roadmap to stay with the business for around 18 months.
An important part of automating for Industry 4.0 is the upskilling of the workforce. By upskilling operatives with digital tools, they can perform a much wider and higher-skilled range of jobs for the business and become the custodians of the technology that has been introduced.
A common mistake businesses make is to plan for the adoption of new automation without thinking about what will be required after physical implementation is complete, including people.
What services can already be covered with existing skillsets and what needs addressing?
Are the right tools in place to sustain what has been created, has the workforce been upskilled with digital tools?
Is necessary external support in place where required?
Where automation is viewed purely as a way to reduce headcount without considering the bigger picture, an opportunity is missed. Businesses that consistently realise transformational automation projects are arming their people to be able to manage the technology.
What do most businesses do?
They see six people out and a robot in as the answer to all their problems.
Yet, conducting a thorough industry 4.0 readiness assessment upfront will maximise opportunities and minimise problems; a clear plan, with KPIs in place and benchmarking complete before pressing the go button will set the path firmly towards success.
We’ve held the hands of companies going through these types of transformations including, at an early stage, working with senior management to maximise the opportunities for success. To discuss further how we could help your business, please contact Rob Cunningham (email@example.com)