Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Regardless of the phrase used to describe digitalisation in manufacturing, there’s no denying that a shift has already taken place. Stefan Reuther, chief sales officer at COPA-DATA, gives his three predictions for industrial automation in 2019…
Manufacturers have long felt the
pressure to invest in new technologies. In the so-called age of Industry 4.0,
this pressure has been heightened by an influx of products and initiatives, all
claiming to help manufacturers digitise their operations. Unfortunately, some
of these schemes are nothing more than a waste of money.
Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly value
in investing in technology to enable digitalisation in factories’ practices.
However, rushed approaches have led to some manufacturers making haphazard investments.
For example, some have delegated digitalisation to third parties and as a
result, are not in charge of their own automation.
Before embarking on a digitalisation scheme,
manufacturers should first examine which technology is practical to their
facility. A good place to begin is to listen to the people on the factory
floor. Understanding how technology can practically help workers can ensure
that investments are pragmatic.
Another thing to consider is simplicity,
by reducing complexity of processes and gaining a clearer overview and full
control. Manufacturers should choose technology that is easy to understand,
implement and scale up in the future. Moving into 2019, digitalisation should
be approached in a more practical manner — a steady, incremental transformation
is better than a failed one.
Less data hoarding, more data use
Software is another area that has been constantly
hallmarked as a method to speed up manufacturing digitalisation. However,
before investing in software for data collection, manufacturers should begin
2019 by implementing a coherent data strategy.
Rather than simply collecting and
storing data, manufacturers must identify the results that they want to achieve
and decide how data can help them to meet these business objectives.
Consider this as an example. Let’s say a
manufacturer wants to improve return on investment (ROI) in the facility by
reducing the amount of materials wasted from production. To identify areas of
improvement, manufacturers would need to collect production data and compare
this with data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).
Without a pre-determined strategy like
this, manufacturers run the risk of simply collecting and storing hordes of
data. There’s no value in data if it is left to gather dust. Over the next
twelve months, we hope to see data strategies become an integral part of
manufacturing. That said, data strategies are only comprehensible when using
the correct software.
The software evolution
Recent years have seen a shift in the
amount of investment manufacturers assign to software. Traditionally, hardware
would have received the largest bulk of cash, but this is beginning to change —
particularly as more advanced software platforms emerge.
Software for manufacturing facilities is
no longer limited to Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Supervisory
Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). The realm of industrial software is
experiencing a convergence of IT and operational technologies (OT), giving
birth to new platforms which integrate a plethora of different areas — including
enterprise data from the corporate level, through to field and process level
While this may sound more complicated
than traditional systems, these platforms often boast better design, visualisation,
calculation logic and ergonomics than their predecessors. This makes the
operation of systems safer, simpler and more transparent.
Software is the driver of what is so commonly
referred to as Industry 4.0. As a result, it is no surprise that we are likely
to see increased investment in integrated platforms like these over the next
The age of conceptualising the
possibilities of manufacturing digitalisation is over. During the next twelve months,
the products and initiatives hailed as ways to transform manufacturing
facilities will finally be put to practical use.