Industry 4.0 is underway. Data analytics, augmented reality, generative design, artificial intelligence, cobots, additive manufacturing and other technologies are already helping manufacturers increase efficiency, reduce downtime, lower prices, differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and improve service, delivery and quality. And there’s more to come.
These technologies are not science fiction. They are being applied right now by manufacturers, large and small, in a variety of industries. That much is clear from the results of the annual Indiana Manufacturing Survey conducted by the Indiana Manufacturers Association, the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, and the accounting firm of Katz, Sapper and Miller.
Some 41 percent of survey respondents believe that investing in digital, or “smart,” manufacturing has positively affected growth, while another 31 percent believe it’s necessary to remain competitive.
One in three manufacturers consider themselves leaders in implementing Industry 4.0 technologies, particularly data analytics and additive manufacturing. Indiana manufacturers are increasingly using the latter to produce spare parts, finished goods, and jigs and fixtures. Not surprisingly, when the survey team examined the performance of Indiana manufacturers, they found that Industry 4.0 leaders posted better performance in terms of capacity utilization, productivity, costs, and speed and reliability of deliveries.
Investment in facilities, machinery and information technologies was reported as the top priority for 58 percent of Indiana manufacturers—the highest percentage since before the Great Recession. Some 37 percent of manufacturers said workforce development was their top priority, while 5 percent said organizational structures and processes were a priority.
When asked about the effect of new technologies and automation on jobs, half the respondents expect it to increase demand for skilled workers, but reduce demand for unskilled positions. Significantly, however, 61 percent of Indiana manufacturers believe they must take responsibility for their own workforce development, up from 51 percent in 2017.
Unfortunately, the potential benefits of digital manufacturing also bring potential threats in terms of cybersecurity. Some 29 percent of manufacturers see cybersecurity as a problem, and—perhaps more alarming—23 percent are not sure it’s a problem or not.
One thing is certain. Industry 4.0 is here. Now. Whether your assembly plant is located in Indiana or elsewhere. Industry 4.0 is not merely a matter of connecting machines and products via the Internet. Industry 4.0 will inevitably lead to new types of work and new ways of working. It will require changes to company structures and relationships between companies. Businesses must understand what they want to achieve and then develop an implementation strategy.
As we’ve done for the past 60 years, we at ASSEMBLY magazine will do our best to help you get there.