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How can manufacturers begin an Industry 4.0 roadmap?

Are you driving toward the next industrial revolution? Industry 4.0 will transform the manufacturing landscape, according to experts. Here's how to get ready.

If you haven't created an Industry 4.0 roadmap, know that you're not alone.

A 2015 McKinsey survey found that only 48% of manufacturers consider themselves ready for Industry 4.0, which it defined as "the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector," driven by the dramatic rise in data volumes, computational power and connectivity; analytics and business intelligence; new forms of human-machine interaction, such as touch interfaces and augmented reality systems; and evolving connections between the digital and physical worlds, including robotics and 3D printing.

Kick-starting your Industry 4.0 roadmap

Manufacturers eager to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, including greater visibility and control, cost savings and more efficient and reliable production, are faced with the daunting task of implementing new technologies, retraining staff and changing processes and procedures to move their companies to the next level. So, where and how can you begin creating your Industry 4.0 roadmap?

Industry 4.0 is the fourth major industrial revolution.
Industry 4.0 is the fourth major industrial revolution.
  1. Survey your current technology landscape. Where are you now? Do a survey of your current technology and automation environment to establish your starting point, and identify what systems and technologies you currently have in place that can play a role in your future.
  2. Define your future vision. Part of the reason creating an Industry 4.0 roadmap is so difficult is that this predicted next stage of manufacturing is in its infancy. You probably don't have a clear vision of what Industry 4.0 will look like in your market, and the related technologies are still evolving. But do your best to envision how technology is changing your industry. Look at your competitors, especially the biggest companies and the most innovative ones. Research the technology suppliers, and read about their successes, particularly in your market and similar industries.
  3. Start with the basics. Virtually every manufacturer on the planet has some form of ERP for operations and financial management, and appropriate engineering and design systems to establish the basic digital presence that is the foundation of Industry 4.0. The first step on the road to the future of manufacturing is to make sure those existing systems are robust enough to grow into the new world of connected smart devices, big data and the digital thread.
  4. Embrace the cloud. Most of the new applications are being developed for the cloud, the platform of choice for connectivity and distributed systems. And moving your internal systems, like ERP and manufacturing execution systems, to the cloud frees up your IT staff for more valuable work in building out your Industry 4.0 infrastructure and implementing new technologies.
  5. Continue to build out your plan. You have a basic plan, but technology is quickly evolving. You will undoubtedly learn a lot as you implement pieces of the solution over the next few years. Continually review that plan, and adjust to changing needs and opportunities.

Risks of an early Industry 4.0 roadmap

There are two major challenges currently facing the developers and implementers of Industry 4.0 facilities: security and standards.

Be aware that there are two major challenges currently facing the developers and implementers of Industry 4.0 facilities: security and standards. Security will always be a primary concern. As each new technology evolves, malefactors attack, and developers must continually repel these intrusions and adapt their systems for tighter control. Since Industry 4.0 is highly dependent on information sharing and transfer, a lack of universally accepted standards for data formats, protocols and the like continues to offer challenges. A number of organizations are working hard at developing the needed standards and pushing for general acceptance. While this is still a work in progress, implementers remain at risk of selecting systems that may not use the protocols that eventually emerge as industry standards.

This was last published in February 2018

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