Industry 4.0 is here. It’s not a buzzword or marketing lingo. It’s reality, and it’s making assembly lines smarter and more efficient.

Indeed, manufacturers are making steady progress in implementing Industry 4.0 technologies, including smart automation, connectivity and analytics. That’s the conclusion of a new survey published in July by Molex LLC, a manufacturer of electronic, electrical and fiber optic connectivity systems.

Molex commissioned Dimensional Research to conduct the survey in June. The independent research firm polled 216 qualified participants in a variety of roles, such as R&D, engineering, manufacturing, strategy, innovation and supply chain management. The goal was to capture data on real-life Industry 4.0 experiences and opinions. Overall, the survey respondents validated the potential benefits of smart manufacturing technologies and the Industrial Internet of Things.

Overall, a significant majority of survey respondents (87 percent) are excited about the transformative power of Industry 4.0 over the next decade. Key findings include:

  • 51 percent report having a well-defined Industry 4.0 corporate strategy with executive sponsorship.
  • 49 percent have already achieved success with these technologies, while 21 percent are still in the investment stage.
  • More than half expect to meet their Industry 4.0 goals within two years, while a third believe it will take three to five years to reach that milestone.
  • 44 percent find organizational and cultural adoption barriers hardest to overcome.

According to the survey, manufacturers believe that Industry 4.0 technologies will enable them to build better products (69 percent); reduce overall manufacturing costs (58 percent); increase revenues (53 percent); offer products at lower prices (35 percent); and decrease time-to-market (35 percent).

For machine builders, robot manufacturers and systems integrators, the opportunity to expand factory-floor automation and intelligence is also expected to drive significant gains in business. Among the most anticipated customer benefits are increased efficiency of manufacturing assets (58 percent); greater flexibility on manufacturing lines (50 percent); the use of advanced analytics or digital twins to optimize operations (50 percent); virtual design and simulation of new production facilities before making capital expenditures (42 percent); elevated labor productivity (41 percent); and unlocked access to real-time data across facilities (26 percent).

Among the capabilities considered most beneficial to their organizations’ Industry 4.0 efforts, the top three were machines embedded with ample intelligence to control their own processes (53 percent); remote access to production lines and machines (47 percent); and versatile connectivity technology (40 percent).

Despite overwhelming optimism for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, persistent cultural, business model and technology challenges thwart implementation. Nearly half of those polled identified problems with leadership that doesn’t advocate for change, making it more difficult to reap full value from investments. Other cultural issues impeding success include problems finding staff with data and analytics skills (35 percent); organizational structures that limit information and systems sharing (32 percent); underfunded, insufficiently staffed pilot projects (30 percent); and lack of expertise in connected technologies (28 percent).

Most of the respondents also face major business model challenges, spurred by a range of complex and costly requirements, such as difficult funding decisions (45 percent); upfront investments that complicate ROI (42 percent); and lack of clarity on which use-cases pose the greatest payoffs (40 percent). A litany of technology hurdles exist, too, including separate IT and OT network infrastructures (43 percent); restrictive communications protocols (39 percent); limited remote access (36 percent); cloud infrastructure and software that are not aligned with manufacturing needs (34 percent); and inadequate security capabilities (32 percent).

Ultimately, 85 percent of participants agreed that a change in how leadership thinks is critical for enabling Industry 4.0 initiatives to thrive.

“It’s gratifying to see widespread Industry 4.0 progress,” says John Newkirk, vice president and general manager of industrial solutions for Molex. “Ensuring success requires a pragmatic approach, organizational alignment and secure connectivity solutions that drive operational efficiency while boosting manufacturing flexibility and reducing costs.”

We agree.