Dave Hudson, Group Leader Data Science & Analytics, ponders the wider implications of Industry 4.0 and suggests that we need to step beyond traditional boundaries if we truly want to drive change and innovation.

Manufacturing is crucial to the economies of most countries and considerable effort has been expended in recent years on defining the possible future state of the sector. I've heard a lot about this recently and the consensus appears to be that whilst manufacturing processes have become more efficient over recent decades through advances in engineering technology, change is now needed in business models to embrace the wider value chain and optimise cost holistically.

What are the broader implications of Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0, the 4th Industrial revolution, is now well established and articles on it fill journals such as the International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology and the International Journal of Production Research. It’s been a buzz-word for some time and much hype continues to surround the potential benefits of embracing it. Industry 4.0 clearly advocates the use of advanced technology to drive improvements in manufacturing agility, value, innovation and customer centricity, utilising new IT technologies such as IoT, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and advanced data science approaches. It describes, for example, a scenario where machines know their own ‘health’ and are able to communicate this, including continuous rescheduling of processes to optimise product quality and production output. But for me it’s much wider than that; in its broadest sense I believe Industry 4.0 is about how an entire manufacturing business, from R&D to Production to Commercial, connects to its suppliers and customers!  

What drives change?

In February 2014 Prof. Henning Kagermann stated that “ICT enabled convergence of technological and business processes will herald the next generation of (German) manufacturing”. This got me thinking, in order to succeed, companies will need to rapidly adapt their own structure and processes to react to both changes in customer/market needs and the availability of new technology. Whether it’s horizontal along a supply chain, vertical through organisation systems, machine-to-machine or person-to-person, the Industry 4.0 concept describes nothing more than at each and every existing boundary, there lies an opportunity to create value.

People tend to associate Industry 4.0 with advanced technology. Of course technology is crucial and the advantages of the physical manufacturing supply chain being much more interconnected are clear. But whilst technology can and does bring about change, to truly drive that change requires the vision and energy that can only come from the people of an organisation and a change in the way in which they work.

Where should we start?

We all tend to work within the silo of our role, in the area we are expert and where we feel comfortable. Our roles all have boundaries with our own suppliers and customers, yet our teams or departments usually seek to innovate at the core of the role, rather than at the boundaries. Innovating at these boundaries, developing personal connections and working with people that have totally different experiences and talents to our own, is what will really generate pioneering new approaches to our business relationships, driving the manufacturing industry forward, aided and abetted, of course, by an ever more interconnected physical world.

Perhaps Tata Steel could be a new connection for you? You may be surprised at what we’re interested in and want to achieve! We’re always open to new ideas, innovations and practices to improve what we do for our customers. So, if you have an idea, challenge us! 

With every connection, there lies an opportunity!