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The future of manufacturing in an Industry 4.0 era

The future of manufacturing may look different than what we're used to, but it's certainly something to look forward to.

In my career of world class manufacturing I have seen many changes to the landscape. Invention and innovation tied to continuous improvement practices have been deeply rooted in the changes we enjoy today and long into tomorrow.

Many small to mid-sized manufacturers are unaware of the information and opportunities associated with Industry 4.0. I hope to provide some insight and encouragement to those who are considering their next steps into Industry 4.0.

Transitioning from Industry 3.0 to 4.0

Regardless of what you identify as your bottom line, how you start defines how you will continue. Here are a few key points to consider when transitioning:

  • Embrace change that will grow your business.

  • Understand how Industry 4.0 plays a vital role in the success of our economy.

  • Deal with the status quo in order to start realizing the benefits of Industry 4.0.

  • Determine the factors that keep your business from adopting new and better ways of manufacturing.

Best ways to get started

Digitization has found its way into daily life and has heralded a new era in manufacturing. It has created opportunities for improved efficiency, higher revenues and increased innovation. This shift is transforming U.S. manufacturing by allowing manufacturers to design, model and validate products in a virtual world.

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center “The Center” has developed out Industry 4.0 program with the small to mid-sized manufacturer in mind. We identify and provide informational support and services to help explore the nine technology trends that form the building blocks of Industry 4.0.

They include:

  • Big Data Manufacturers who learn to properly utilize Big Data can use it to reveal patterns and trends in operations, especially relating to human behavior and interaction. This will help make more informed, educated business decisions.

  • Cybersecurity As interconnectivity and the use of electronic data collection, storage and transmission increase, so too does the risk of cyber-attack. With increased Industry 4.0 adoption and a growing number of organizations being targeted each day for cyber theft, damage or disruption, the importance of cybersecurity cannot be ignored.

  • Augmented & Virtual Reality Reduce inconsistent employee training and task performance, and enhance productivity, quality and safety.

  • Robotics/Automation In this increasingly competitive business landscape, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to innovate and improve processes to boost their bottom line. Automation makes humans’ jobs easier by using machines, robots and control systems to automate tasks.

  • Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing Additive manufacturing can help to solve manufacturing problems by reducing scrap material, money lost due to faulty design, and neglected repairs.

  • Simulation Using simulation software, manufacturers can create virtual representations of a part or process on a computer, which allows a business to validate the idea without the upfront expenses.

  • System Integration System integration provides a centralized location for all data, making for simpler and more efficient data management and increased transparency into business operations.

  • Cloud Computing This eliminates the risk of quality, safety and productivity failure by having information readily available, exactly when you need it.

  • Internet of Things Manufacturers must have information available to those who really need it when it is needed. The IoT makes this possible.

In sum, Industry 4.0 has the power to positively impact manufacturers by enhancing computational power and connectivity, promoting human-machine interaction, focusing on analytics and intelligence, and encouraging advanced production methods.

Exiting Industry 3.0, Entering Industry 4.0

Many manufacturers have experienced great success utilizing highly effective statistical tools during Industry 3.0. We found processes could be measured and analyzed to determine corrective actions for improvement. The workforce was engaged through creative application of Lean Tools to address the quantified problems. The manufacturers putting these practices to work for them were able to stabilize and improve their profitability."

As we enter Industry 4.0, I am advocating that manufacturers explore how Big Data can impact their business. The proven statistical methods of Industry 3.0 are even more powerful with Big Data as the framework to drive business intelligence. These realizations will be representative of the way the business is run and how it can be improved.

This is not the end; it is a new beginning.

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