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Covid-19 and Industry 4.0 – Where do we go from here?

COVID-19 AND INDUSTRY 4.0 – WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

Over the course of 30 or so years, the world has been thrown into a technological revolution. As a millennial, I cannot remember a world without technology. My earliest memories involve me patiently waiting for a phone call to end so I could ‘dial up the modem’ and spend hours chatting away on MSN and HABBO Hotel (feeling nostalgic?).

Industry 4.0 or ‘the 4th wave’ is the technological revolution of the manufacturing industry, allowing a more streamlined production. When implemented correctly, industry 4.0 can improve productivity and efficiency resulting in an increase of profits.

Yet research shows the FMCG industry have been reluctant to implement these kinds of changes. In this article I aim to explore why this is, the effect Covid-19 has had on the manufacturing industry and the benefits of smart technology.

 

How has Covid- 19 effected the manufacturing industry?

Now more than ever, technology is at the forefront of what we do.

For weeks, many of us have been isolated from our friends and families. 3D printing has helped ensure that frontline workers remain protected and with 191 countries implementing school closures, 1.57 billion students have relied on the internet and online programmes to continue to study. 

Although if feels as though the world is at somewhat of a standstill, the manufacturing industry may be busier than ever. Many supermarket shelves have been emptied of essentials - flour, canned meat and pasta have seen an increase in sales at 80%, 60% & 51% respectively and factory workers and engineers have been identified as key workers. 

With demand for products surging, manufacturers must ensure they can produce these necessities. Industry 4.0 minimises machine downtime, in turn leading into an increase of production and in profits.

 

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution. It is starting to change the way in which goods are manufactured and how businesses are ran.

Industry 4.0 is a result of the manifestation of computerized systems introduced as part of the third industrial revolution. It involves using artificial intelligence in order to produce products in a more controlled and sustained way by using machine learning and collected data.

 

How do manufacturers benefit from Industry 4.0?

Increased efficiency and productivity are two of the main benefits of smart technology, but what else? Introducing new products to production lines, creating a one-off manufacturing run and complying to industries standards are all proven to be easier and more efficient in smart factories.

Another benefit is the ability to enhance customer experience, for example, automated track and trace capabilities can quickly resolve problems resulting in an improvement of the quality of products.

Industry 4.0 can also allow leaders to identify key areas for improvement. Studies show predictive maintenance can generate up to 12% in savings, reduce 30% in maintenance costs and cut downtime by 70% . 

In turn, industry 4.0 can maximise costs by ensuring a better use of resources, result in faster manufacturing, produce higher quality products, create less production waste, and lower overall operating costs.

 

Why are businesses resisting Industry 4.0 and smart technology?

There is one overwhelming factor resulting in reluctance to proceed with this technology. The main reason decision makers are so hesitant to adapt this new wave of technology is the fear that artificial intelligence will take jobs away from employees.

Humans remain the most important element in the process. In a previous post, I wrote how TESLA’s fully automated factory - which required no human intervention proved unsuccessful, managing to produce only 2000 vehicles a week instead of the 5000 initially planned. Elon Musk advised “sophisticated robots actually slowed down production instead of speeding it up” proving that to work efficiently it is essential both humans and robots collaborate. 

Another factor contributing to the resistance of smart technology is finding the staff with appropriate skills. Many decision makers are concerned that their current staff will struggle to use this new technology.

Companies who have implemented this technology have found that it is not necessary to be data savvy in order you use this equipment. By developing a culture of continuous learning and introducing a tech enabled workforce, you can enhance the work that people are doing with few changes.

 

How has COVID-19 impacted Industry 4.0?

With the ongoing pandemic, it remains imperative that businesses ensure employees are taking the required precautions to maintain social distancing measures in order to avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus.

Engineers working in smart factories with automated systems will be less likely to have to go on site to maintain machinery and ensure it is running. Using artificial intelligence means production can continue, even if engineers are not permitted to work on site.

From speaking to both engineering managers and automation engineers it seems there is an overwhelming theory – COVID19 will cause a surge in smart factories. Companies in the early stages of implementing this technology will be forced to progress much quicker than anticipated to sustain business and make profits.

 

Conclusion

Industry 4.0 is the most complex change management all organisations will go through- and it is not a matter of IF but a matter of WHEN these changes will be implemented. In the 19th century we relied on steam engines to power factories, the 20th century saw electrification lead to mass productions and over the course of 30 years we have seen the industry become more automated – it is now more important than ever for companies to execute the steps in enforcing this technology in order for their business to thrive.

To discuss any points further, or for help finding engineers to fulfil these roles, feel free to contact me at ecoleman@leap29.com or call 01625 537555 ext 133.

Posted by Ellie Coleman