I recently listened to this podcast from McKinsey on the future of manufacturing, and I'll summarise some of the key topics and add some of my own thoughts on the points they made about the direction that the manufacturing industry is headed in.
'Lighthouse manufacturers'. An exclusive club?
The podcast kicks off by mentioning that there are a number of 'lighthouse manufacturers' globally who are blazing a trail for the rest of the industry in terms of best practices and digital transformation in what has been called the "fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0"
While one may think that these would be brand new greenfield factories filled with automated robots, it's not the case at all.
The most advanced cases where “the fourth industrial revolution” is taking shape are 'brownfield' sites, not in new buildings that were set up to that effect. Transforming an existing facility and its existing equipment is possible, even in factories that have been around for a long time.
It's not done in factories that are literally 'lights-out' either. New digital technologies and training in new skills 'augment' operators' capabilities rather than replace them.
Digital technologies bringing factories into the 21st Century
The most digitally advanced factories often use a portfolio of digital technologies, each often aimed at improving just a single process or task. By implementing 20-30+ cases, a Bayer factory in Italy increased productivity by 40% without capital investments.
Some great examples given of digital industry 4.0 technologies used to digitally transform factories are predictive maintenance, digital performance management, 3D-printing, and IoT sensors (working with the cloud).
The data from IoT sensors on machines is used to automatically alert engineers before issues occur and even have the parts ordered and ready-and-waiting for them before they arrive to perform the maintenance.
Upon arrival, AR glasses show technicians how to perform the maintenance, so the need for an encyclopedic knowledge of procedures is no longer required in maintenance staff.
This takes the reactivity and, hopefully, downtime out of factory maintenance.
Digital performance management
An effective replacement for old-school often hand-filled 'dashboards' or visual management boards that we commonly see in factories showing KPIs and other data.
Now these dashboards are fed with real-time data from IoT sensors which allow a true view of performance immediately and also faster reaction to any issues by the management team and staff.
As SynControl is an IoT app that uses real-time data to improve the performance of quality inspection teams, I can completely understand the importance of digitising data collection and results in order to streamline factory performance and react in a more agile way.
An amazing example of cost-reduction is 3D-printing spare parts where needed, rather than keeping them in inventory in a central warehouse and shipping them around.
3D-printing is now more economical and it has started to break into mass-manufacturing. Rather than just being the preserve of prototyping, it's used today, for example, by certain smartphone component manufacturers who often print 100,000 pieces or more at a time.
IoT sensors and the cloud
IoT is a component of most of the digital technologies that we see driving productivity in Industry 4.0. In the podcast it's likened to the body's nervous system, where IoT sensors send stimuli to the cloud (the brain) which then reacts using automation.
Not only can IoT help factories improve performance on site, but it also has a part to play in business, as it can provide customer usage data which will influence design, production, marketing, and so much more that is beyond the factory floor.