Industry 4.0 May Still Be a Challenge for Some Manufacturers—But It’s Still Doable

There’s a lot of support out there to help manufacturers advance their processes. Here’s how to assess your Industry 4.0 readiness and where to turn for help.

Daphne Allen

June 7, 2024

4 Min Read
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We’ve been talking about Industry 4.0 for years, maybe even a decade. Many companies, however, are still just beginning to automate, utilize sensors and IIoT, and collect and analyze manufacturing data. 

Your company may just be starting out, too—but how do you know if you’re ready for such a big transition?

To help professionals assess their Industry 4.0 readiness, Rhonda Huskins, regional vice president at South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP), shared several considerations and pointers in the IME South session, “Industry 4.0: Readiness and Resources.” She was joined by Miranda Craig, business development associate at SCMEP, who shared a number of resources for manufacturers.

Here are some takeaways from the session in terms of skills, technology, planning and budget, and additional resources.

People and Skills

“Is company leadership aligned on the value of these initiatives?” asked Huskins. “They should champion them, communicate their importance, and actively participate in the transformation.” 

Does your company adapt well to change? Has it successfully implemented other changes? Huskins asked. “You’ll need to think about how good [the company] is at implementing these changes before signing up for them,” she said. A company culture that “embraces change is key,” as is assessing whether help is needed.

She encouraged embracing a culture of continuous improvement and change. “Within a healthy [company] culture, employees are encouraged to not only personally improve their own work processes but to propose disruptive ideas,” she explained. “Remember that the people who touch something every day know it better and are more likely to come up with ways to improve it than are people from the outside. So don’t cut them out of the discussion.”

And when employees are part of the discussion, when they feel like they are part of the solution, and when they view technology as a positive, “they don’t see it as a threat to their continued employment,” she added. “You absolutely want to bring these people in and make them feel valued as part of bringing this change in and making it successful. Continually show them how it’s going to make their lives better.”

It's also important to assess what skills gaps may exist on your team. “Training is always going to be needed but is there any prework that needs to be done to prepare your workers to learn?” she asked. For instance, does everyone have a smartphone? Basic computer skills?

Technology

How good are your legacy systems, infrastructure, and communications protocols? asked Huskins.

Have you considered cybersecurity? Huskins shared a quote from the World Economic Forum that “in 2022, manufacturing had the highest share of cyberattacks among leading industries worldwide, and the third quarter of 2023 marked a 15% increase over the previous.” So, "it’s bad and getting worse," she added.

Are you already using cloud computing? “It may be a necessity as you move forward,” she said.

How healthy and accurate are your inventory and ERP systems? “Do you have one simple platform that provides accurate and actionable data? Or does everyone have their own side hustle going with spreadsheets?” she asked.

How visible is your supply chain? Can you track downtime, delivery, performance, scrap, safety, and sustainability? “If you have historical numbers to work with, you’ll be in a better position to know where to work on improvements and measure results,” she said.

Industry 4.0 Strategy

Do you have a long-term strategy? How would technology investments help you meet your short- and long-term objectives set out in your strategy? she asked. 

Also, look at your KPIs, she advised. “What can you improve using this technology? Can you quantify the benefits?” she asked.

Planning and Budgeting

Make sure you have a formal plan and meet regularly, she said.

Find out the "all-in costs" and budget appropriately. “You can probably get a cobot for under $75,000, but you still have to implement it and integrate it, and training your people is going to cost you more,” she said. Also, consider whether you will need to hire consultants.

More Resources

Miranda Craig explained several resources available to South Carolina manufacturers through the SCMEP. (There are 51 MEPs throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, so if you aren’t in SC, check out your state here: https://www.nist.gov/mep/centers. Learn more about MEPs here: www.nist.gov/mep.)

One such SCMEP resource is the new Advanced Manufacturing Technologies Resource Guide, which covers the following eight technology pillars: additive manufacturing; AI and machine learning; augmented, mixed, and virtual reality; cybersecurity; data connectivity, collection, and storage; data analysis, modeling, and simulation; physical automation; and system integration (hardware and software). 

SCMEP also offers an Industry 4.0 Assessment.

Craig also described the CONNEX database of suppliers, a cloud-based program to help manufacturers find suppliers. “The data in CONNEX is vetted by MEPs,” she said.

About the Author(s)

Daphne Allen

Daphne Allen is editor-in-chief of Design News. She previously served as editor-in-chief of MD+DI and of Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News and also served as an editor for Packaging Digest. Daphne has covered design, manufacturing, materials, packaging, labeling, and regulatory issues for more than 20 years. She has also presented on these topics in several webinars and conferences, most recently discussing design and engineering trends at IME West 2024 and leading an Industry ShopTalk discussion during the show on artificial intelligence.

Follow Daphne on X at @daphneallen and reach her at [email protected].

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