Digitalization, IoT, advanced analytics, augmented reality… all of these are trends and technologies associated with Smart Manufacturing (otherwise known as Industry 4.0). They might sound like overhyped buzzwords. But the effects of the pandemic and major shifts like the great resignation are turning the hype into reality.
Manufacturing companies are under pressure. They are facing a talent shortage, an aging workforce, supply shortages, and demand volatility. It’s a perfect storm. A Deloitte survey found that 51% of executives cited “maintaining or increasing production levels to satisfy growing customer demand” as the biggest challenge arising from not filling open jobs. To sail through, they need to transform their operations for increased productivity. The question many of them face is “where do we start?” Navigating the technology landscape to build a smart factory may seem daunting. In this blog, we will explore 5 foundational technologies that are seeing accelerated adoption.
[Source: "Industry 4.0: Reimagining manufacturing operations after COVID-19", McKinsey & Company, 2020]
1. Digital work instructions.
Every shop floor needs standard operating procedures and work instructions. But, until recently, most companies were still using paper-based manuals, PDFs or static spreadsheets and Word docs. That’s changing quickly. Cloud adoption accelerated 24 times faster compared to years prior to the pandemic, and work instructions have benefited from this.
Digital work instructions are seeing accelerated adoption as companies push to move their assets to the cloud and increase productivity on the shop floor.
A digital work instruction platform provides a solid foundation for the smart factory.
It facilitates better on-the-job training, faster onboarding for new hires, knowledge transfer at a time of high employee turnover, and a culture of learning and development. Not to mention considerable time savings on the factory line. SwipeGuide customers have found that it takes 20% less time to complete a task with a digital work instruction platform. They also gain 33% more time between changeovers and see nearly 70% fewer errors on the shop floor.
2. Digital performance management.
Digital performance management is another trend that’s seeing increased adoption. Part of the benefit of using a digital work instruction platform is that you can empower your frontline workers with better tools to gather performance data. Employees can report problems quickly and crowdsource knowledge to address them. We have seen customers increase the number of inspections and checklists their team performs by over 150%.
Combine this with asset tracking and you have a winning setup to improve operational efficiency and minimize downtimes. As McKinsey explains, data collection in the factory has traditionally been very manual. This makes the process error-prone. With sensors and connected devices (IoT), you can “monitor factory performance remotely and in real-time.”
3. Digital maintenance and augmented reality.
Augmented reality is also rising in adoption, especially as a means to drive productivity in maintenance tasks. Travel became difficult during the pandemic. So, wearable devices became a necessity to provide remote operator assistance.
At a more strategic level, companies are investing in digital maintenance systems to predict and prevent equipment failures, especially in asset-intensive industries. McKinsey describes this as an “end-to-end reliability and maintenance system that optimizes workforce efficiency and detects failures early, allowing for seamless interventions that maximize total asset availability while minimizing total cost.” The success of this type of program is contingent on other foundational technologies like digital performance management and workflow digitization, as well as an organizational culture that strives for continuous improvement.
4. Digital Twins.
Digital twins are yet another technological leap companies are making to improve operations. A digital twin is a digital copy of physical objects or processes. Typically, you hear about digital twins in the context of connected devices. These virtual replicas are often created using data from sensors and IoT. But companies can also create a complete digital representation of their operations. For instance, creating a virtual replica of the production line or supply chain network. This type of digital twin allows manufacturers to test changes and optimize their processes using simulations. APIs that connect your digital work management system with the digital twin are critical, especially when you need to supplement asset data with knowledge provided by domain experts.
Last but not least, there’s automation. Basic retrofit automation saw a boost in adoption in conveyor operations and warehouses as a means to reduce human-to-human contact during the pandemic. Companies are also betting on automation to address the workforce shortage.
According to Deloitte, about a third of manufacturers in the US alone are supplementing their workforce with automation; 64% say it’s helping them address the challenges they face in filling open jobs.
[Source: Deloitte skills gap and future of work in manufacturing study, 2018]
But fully autonomous factories are not likely in the very near future. Instead, we are seeing an increased demand for digital skills among frontline workers who need to adapt to this hybrid (human-to-machine) environment. In the same Deloitte survey, 53% of manufacturers in the US are redesigning their work around automation; 26% are retraining their team to work with AI, cobots, and robots.
The bottom line is: automation starts with better workforce management and connected work.
Don’t forget the human element in the smart factory.
Smart manufacturing technologies are here to stay and adoption is speeding up.
The technologies we discussed above are a good place to start your journey. Remember to prioritize the human element and set a solid foundation with digital standard work to kick off your transformation.
To realize the digital transformation in a systemic, data-driven, and holistic way, you can consider an Industry 4.0 framework, which will educate your teams, help you measure your digital maturity, define your plant’s bottom-up Industry 4.0 strategy, and provide you with a roadmap to scale the value across the enterprise. Learn about the 4 steps that every manufacturing leader needs to take, to steer their organizations and teams through the Industry 4.0 journey.