The title is provocative, but properly describes the topic of this article: we will try to understand what could be the best approach to innovation and change, as required by the fourth industrial revolution that we are witnessing.
Without stopping to describe the history of industrial revolutions, we will say that the latter has a certain peculiarity compared to the past ones.
Each industrial revolution was characterized by the appearance of a certain enabling technology: the steam engine for the first one (1700), the electricity for the second one (early ‘900); the computer for the third one (after the second post-war period).
The peculiarity of this fourth industry revolution is that we are not dealing with a single enabling technology, but with a verity of enabling technologies which therefore entitle us to speak of “industry 4.0 ecosystem“.
Industry 4.0 ecosystem
We are talking about the ecosystem because this new industrial revolution is stimulated by different digital technologies all interconnected between them. Some of these technologies have existed for some time, but it is today that they have reached the right maturity; other technologies instead represent real news.
Therefore, let’s talk about 3D printing, Internet of things, data acquisition and analysis, cloud computing, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, etc.
We are talking about the ecosystem, because all these factors, especially if they are interconnected, will have an important impact on the entire global value chain.
The perception of a new industrial revolution probably occurred when we understood that all these elements could contribute to creating a virtuous integration between the physical and the virtual world.
Because the digitization of processes is important
The digitization of processes has a crucial importance in the achievement and success of this new ecosystem. Nothing is achieved only because it is beautiful or amusing: it must be economically sustainable, advantageous, and ergonomic; in short… it must represent a better choice than what has been done in the past.
Let’s try to list some advantages of the digitization process.
- Surely it transfers the flexibility and speed of the software, to the large-scale production of physical products (machines, household appliances, pharmaceutical products, etc.)
- The possibility of bringing simulation processes to very refined levels leads to great cost reductions in creating new productions: a product will then be launched after the identification and resolution of potential production problems
- The possibility to track the product, up to shipping to the customer
- The possibility of creating what we might call mass customization, bringing the customer closer to production
The “invisible” advantages of industry 4.0
We can say that Industry 4.0 is more than a revolution, it’s a movement. And like everything that moves, it changes and evolves. We can therefore easily predict that, in addition to tangible and immediately perceptible advantages, there are other invisible “still” matters.
Yes, because we cannot help thinking that this “movement” will also bring new methods of dealing with problems that today seem insuperable to us; new tools and technologies that have not yet loomed on the horizon; new skills to implement new activities that today only the experts can imagine.
If you think about it, investing in Industry 4.0 is something that should be done more for what you can imagine than for what you can already do (and it’s not little or trivial at all).
The tangible advantages of industry 4.0
They could be summarized in “greater efficiency and technological integration“.
The first consequence of achieving such a goal is significant cost savings.
This saving materializes in the management of operations, planning, and availability of the necessary resources … in the productivity of the operators thanks to a better user experience.
But let’s try to highlight some rather relevant aspects of Industry 4.0.
- When we talk about industry 4.0, we are especially talking about “data“. Actually, the main role of data is nothing new: we are by now used to giving them due importance since several decades ago, many companies have approached the “lean philosophy” derived from Toyota. We already know that production data is essential to understand where waste opportunities lie.
The statistical analysis derived from lean has long trained us to focus on the importance of monitoring our work, looking for ways to improve, optimizing the value chain.
Today’s technologies, those that create the ecosystem we are dealing with, allow us obtaining a “large” amount of data. Not only that. We also have the tools to analyze this data: without a correct analysis, all these unstructured data would be practically useless, perhaps counterproductive.
What is the purpose of the data available to us? For example, a predictive analysis that can be used especially in the quality control or maintenance process. The software now allows reactive and interactive actions with the system. In some cases even proactive.
The saving is noteworthy both in terms of speed in solving the problem, and in the lower incidence of “serious” damage to the machines, therefore less expense for repairs.
- The most shattering effect of the new environment is certainly the real possibility of horizontal and vertical integration. What does it mean? It means that the new tools focused on implementing the smart factory will include functions and processes along the entire internal hierarchy (vertical integration) and will also concern suppliers, partners, distributors, in short, all those actors who participate in the value chain ( horizontal integration).
- The possibility of an effective prototyping allows the implementation of new products, new assembly lines: therefore it becomes easier and less expensive to introduce new products on the market.
- New technologies bring the customer closer, allowing him to react promptly to new demands and new needs from the market. New business models appear on the horizon.
Industry 4.0: the challenge occurs now
We speak of challenge because to start a process of change with a view to 4.0 for your company is not really like pushing a button: you need structural and organizational changes, as well as investments.
Before you get discouraged, it must be said that, according to some surveys most of those who initiated such a process expect to recover the investment within a couple of years.
But that’s not enough.
In reasoning we must consider the strategic aspect of the question. It is important to do it now, because we are still at the beginning, and there is still time to give ourselves a considerable advantage over our direct competitors, those who prefer to wait, see how it goes, and if ever, start the process later. Indeed: when it will be late. They will find themselves dealing with companies already equipped, functioning at another speed, and therefore the investment required to reach the same level will grow for them.
How to act
We feel like giving some advice to all those companies that have understood the importance of this revolution.
- First of all, take advantage of the support provided. As far as concerns Italy, we are obviously referring to the facilities and incentives offered by “Piano Nazionale Industria 4.0“, illustrated by Minister Calenda in 2017 and reconfirmed for 2018.
- Having clear ideas, before launching a phase of deep change, is always recommended. Start with the measures you consider suitable for providing more added value.
- We borrow from lean the concept of a pilot project. Start with a small, defined project that will serve to set some experiences and goals.
- Define the skills that will appear as necessary. Among the competences we include both the skills of the people and the corporate technological infrastructures.
- The company must become strongly data oriented. Implementing solutions (obviously software) for data acquisition and analysis.
- Promoting a digital culture. This must have a positive impact on all business practices.
- Choose integrated solutions that involve the entire value chain, partners and suppliers.
That’s all. We leave you with this quote, by Michael Alsthuler.
“The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you are the pilot”.
Ascoltando: Isaac Gracie – “Silhouettes of you”
Lettura in corso: “Alice in Wonderland” di Lewis Carrol
Mood: Under control