Digital innovations are now also transforming the manufacturing industry, so much that for some years we often hear about Industry 4.0. But what is it really about? What changes does it bring?
This pill is dedicated to giving a brief and clear picture of the context, the challenges and the impacts of this change.
What is industry 4.0?
We talk about Industry 4.0 to indicate the integration between industrial automation and new digital technologies that leads to an increase in competitiveness, efficiency and product quality, to the creation of new business models and to improve working conditions. This thanks to the interconnection of its own resources (informative, human and technological) both inside the factory and distributed along the value chain: business, customers, and suppliers are increasingly connected!
Impacts on the company
The main effects of this change are a process, infrastructure, application, hardware and software innovations, the result of technological convergence of Information Technology and Operational Technology. These technologies are difficult to find “pure” in the company, but they are usually adopted in a combined manner, involving not only the production process but also the products themselves, enabling push customizations and service innovation (with a greater focus on Customer Experience).
Keep in mind that innovation/revision of organizational and productive processes inevitably entails the direct involvement of all workers, whose motivation becomes a key lever for the success of the change.
The organizational structure of the company thus needs to be modified with an emphasis on teamwork, direct coordination between technical and operational staff and facilitation of collaboration/participation and dissemination of knowledge (including targeted rotations and structured suggestions to bring value to the worker and to the company).
Another important aspect: from a lean point of view, these new technologies aim to reduce waste, accidents, physical fatigue, and harm to the worker, breakdowns, costs (of direct or non-quality labor), set-up times and change over and time and new product development costs. A culture of combating waste and greater attention to safety is therefore developed.
Finally, the strong imbalance towards the pushed use of technologies, also puts the emphasis on security risk, not only for workers but also for the company: this is the particular focus of the companies’ attention to cybersecurity in recent years.
What are the 4.0 technologies?
As mentioned the new digital industrial technologies, also called Smart technologies, see a convergence between Information Technologies (IT) and Operational Technologies (OT).
The main technologies of Information Technology are:
- Internet Of Things (IoT), which allows machines and objects to be connected via sensors, tracing products and production and maintenance operations;
- Big Data, which allows to collect, manage and analyze a considerable amount of data (also generated by the collection of information from IoT sensors, for example);
- Cloud Computing, which makes it possible to use software and hardware resources on-demand in an internet network to support production processes and supply chain management without worrying about maintenance or updating
The Operational Technologies are instead:
- Advanced Automation, which adds to the traditional systems automated production systems that also involves artificial intelligence (collaborative robotics, exoskeletons, and wearable robots);
- Advanced HMI, new human-machine interfaces – augmented and virtual reality;
- Additive Manufacturing, 3D printing which, by addition, can generate objects that cannot be made (or were too expensive) with die casting.
Advantages/disadvantages for workers
The worker is facilitated in daily operations.
Thanks to new technologies it can get:
- tools that facilitate his work (whether productive or control)
- machine/robot supports for repetitive and weary jobs
- greater safety (environmental or occupational risks deriving from organizational assessments/decisions can be reduced)
This integration leads to an enrichment of the operator who can use the process performance data and become aware in real-time of the production trend. At the same time, workers are asked to continually acquire new skills and flexibility and to question their way of working to adapt to new technologies.
Change is often viewed with suspicion because it forces us to leave a known territory, made up of automatisms acquired over time and leads us towards a future that we do not know. The case of industry 4.0 is no exception. To become competitive, the company needs large investments and a lot of collaboration from its workforce.
Digitization goes through all our daily lives, we have to live with it and learn to adapt. In short, we must prepare ourselves to face a future in which technology will increasingly be the key to remaining competitive on the market.
See you at the next pill!