Industry 4.0: Are we there yet?

Sumaita Karim

Sumaita Karim

Marketing & Partnerships Specialist

If you believe the hype, we’re in the midst of the greatest revolution in manufacturing in more than half a century,- but hold on, are we actually there yet? If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re familiar with the concept of  Industry 4.0, especially if you read Part I and Part II of our series on this topic.

In Part 1, we travelled back in time to analyze the elements that defined industrial revolutions 1-3, leading up to the present day. Part 2 focused on the latest industrial revolution and the key technologies that define it.

Some might argue that those technologies are sufficiently mature to justify the claim that Industry 4.0 is here today, while others might point to the slow progress of digitization or the lack of talk about Industry 5.0 as evidence that we still have a long way to go.  

The reality is that there is no simple answer to the question: 

Are we in Industry 4.0 today?

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking. That’s why we reached out to five thought leaders on the topic of Industry 4.0 to get their answers for the third and final part in our series on the fourth industrial revolution

Thomas Bloor, VP of Sales at Acerta

Going alphabetically, we’ll start with our VP of Sales here at Acerta, Thomas Bloor. Thomas has more than 20 years of experience working on the cutting edge of industry at companies such as Intel and BlackBerry QNX. Here’s what he had to say about our progress toward Industry 4.0.

I would say the answer varies on a per-company, and even per-factory basis. Some companies have a lot of data, while some have none. Sometimes even those who have data aren’t necessarily using it to its full potential.

One of the challenges we’re going to have in reaching the full potential of Industry 4.0 is accessing the data in order to get any meaningful insights from it. There’s a huge spectrum of abilities and capabilities in manufacturing, and a lot of it depends on how much companies have invested in their Industry 4.0 initiatives. If they run on hard fiscal metrics, the mindset is, “Why spend a ton of money instrumenting a line to collect data if I don’t know what the ROI will be?” 

It’s a difficult question and there is no simple answer. 

So, are we in Industry 4.0 today? 

Kind of

Some companies are on the leading edge, some are lagging well behind.

Hugo Fuentes Diaz, CEO at The Owl Solutions

Hugo Fuentes Diaz is the CEO of The Owl Solutions, a company that is helping supply chain management professionals make better business decisions using data. He has over 20 years of experience building and leading supply chain organizations in various industries all around the world.

Check out this episode of The Owl’s podcast, featuring our own CEO, Greta Cutulenco.

I think decision makers are increasingly becoming more aware about the value and relevance of accelerating the adoption of Industry 4.0 capabilities into traditional manufacturing environments.

However, I believe we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. 

As more companies continue to realize actual, measurable results driven by early adopters, leading technologies will become mainstream. I’m excited about the changes happening within next 12 months. 

My two pieces of advice for people wanting to get into this: the cost of doing nothing is not nothing, perhaps less visible in the P&L but it’s still there and it will hit your organization sooner than later. So take action now. 

And the other recommendation: look at how to evolve your entire supply chain capabilities into the digital era; it’s not enough to master your within-four-walls capabilities, companies need to think holistically and connect the dots throughout the entire value network, including suppliers and customers. 

That sounds like a true revolution to me: Tearing down the walls of lack of internal and external collaboration by leveraging technology.

Martina Koederitz, General Manager US Industrial Market at IBM

Martina Koederitz is the General Manager of US Industrial Market at IBM. She’s had over 32 years of experience at IBM in various roles. Currently she leads a team dedicated to helping businesses transform through technology across diverse industries such as automotive, aerospace and defence, electronics and manufacturing. Here’s her expertise on the state of industry 4.0 today:

COVID has only accelerated Industry 4.0 transformational work for many companies. Digitization and AI are helping organizations build more resilience during this challenging time. Companies that take the opportunity today will be better positioned for the future.

 

Some of the advanced transformation work I’m seeing includes AI automation, worker safety around return to work processes and supply chain transparency. Automated intelligence is being used by manufacturers to identify issues that were not observed during normal inspection and preventive maintenance cycles. 

For example, a U.S. auto manufacturer is detecting production issues at the point of installation so they can be immediately addressed. This automated visual inspection prevented 32 vehicle mis-builds in the first 30 days of use. The manufacturer can now more quickly respond to production requirements and is scaling this solution across multiple production inspection points. It reduces rework and improves overall product quality.

AI technologies are also helping companies monitor and enforce regulations for safety, including COVID-19. Embedded computer vision applications exist that can flag workers when entering hazardous environments or scan a construction area to alert supervisors to act. 

Finally, supply chain visibility continues to be a huge issue for organizations. For example, digitization through AI-based systems is helping to provide advanced warning about shipment delays, incorporating weather, social channels, daily news and border crossing times compared against time of day and weekday as well as out of stock inventory and countless other elements. This gives manufacturers time to get ahead of any disruptions and better mitigate those that do occur. 

These new approaches and technologies truly are fusing the “physical, digital and biological worlds.” They are representative of the accelerated Industry 4.0 transformation that is happening across industries today, despite the onslaught of COVID-19.

Remus Pop, Director of Connected Factory I4.0 at Conway Mackenzie

Remus Pop is the Director of Connected Factory I4.0 at Conway Mackenzie. He’s had over 10 years of experience in the industry, leveraging technology and experience to digitally transform manufacturing facilities across the globe through Industry 4.0 initiatives.

I would say that, without a doubt, we are in the fourth revolution of industry. 

Companies like Microsoft and Amazon are investing heavily in Industry 4.0, to the tunes of billions. The adoption rates are growing daily and the current Covid pandemic has been a catalyst to even faster growth.

There’s even some speakers and folks that believe we are even seeing some elements of Industry 5.0, with what seems to be coming under the name of Cognitive Manufacturing. 

We are seeing more and more clients across multiple different types of industries interested in the technology of Industry 4.0. What I like to talk about with them frequently is to have a purpose behind deploying technology. 

Let’s not deploy I4.0 for the sake of it, but let’s identify a business problem, and use I4.0 technology to solve it.

Soni Thakur, Vice President of Consulting Services at CGI

Soni Thakur is the Vice President of Consulting Services at CGI. She’s had over 20 years of experience in leading strategic transformations for organizations globally across industries such as manufacturing, logistics and distribution, telecom and media. Here are her thoughts on Industry 4.0 today:

We embarked on Industry 4.0 by deploying several IoT and IIoT enabled processes, however we have yet to realize their potential due to socio-political mixed bag of reasons.

 

Example 1: Paperless factory of future (FoF) model was to be enabled by IoT and Ind4.0 process flows however economic conditions impeded the urgency and purpose with which US industrial teams are deploying FoF many plant managers have their funding cut due to reasons beyond their control and this has taken a back seat. 

Example 2: The pressure to record emissions from automotive assembly plants on the US side was relaxed after the current administration came to office. EU still uses IoT for recording greenhouse emissions but US plants don’t anymore (they used to do so in prior administration before the US retreated from environmental agreements and took a more relaxed view to this)….and we have taken a step backwards is Industry 4.0 for those reasons.

So, are we there yet?

As indicated in the introduction, there is no straightforward answer; it depends on whom you ask. 

However, the best answer for now might be the same one every parent has given to a child who asks the same question on a long car trip: just a little further.

Our industry experts have given us their opinions but we want to hear from you too!

Leave us your thoughts on the state of Industry 4.0 today in the comments below, and be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

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