Sarah Walker looks at what technological trends the next decade will bring for the UK manufacturing sector
The subject of much debate, Industry 4.0 represents the most revolutionary change to affect the manufacturing sector in a number of years, with some even heralding it as the fourth industrial revolution. Driven by a need to capitalise on exploding levels of information, Industry 4.0 has the capacity to facilitate the ‘smart factory’ or the ‘factory of the future’, where the multiple data sources in place will result in increased automation, more accurate business insights and increased efficiencies.
Although the factory of the future may still be some years off for the majority of manufacturing businesses, the need to transform in preparation for this smarter way of working puts pressure on these businesses to embrace new technology now, to lay the foundations for future growth. In light of this, the most pressing issue for most manufacturers is what to do with the wealth of data they’re seeing flowing in and out of their organisation. For the fans of Big Data, they claim that all data must be valuable and therefore useful, but in reality, it’s futile to throw data at inefficient and outdated processes and systems. For those manufacturing businesses not wishing to be left behind, now is the time to start assessing existing business practices to put the solid framework in place upon which to build the factory of the future.
By its very nature, the factory of the future is a complex entity, made up of a series of complicated operations and processes. Therefore it requires solutions in place that are able to handle this level of intricacy. If stand-alone processes aren’t optimised from the outset, manufacturers will fail in their endeavours to achieve superior levels of performance throughout the business once processes are fully integrated, as is the requirement of the smart factory infrastructure. Software that enables a deeper understanding of the complex and interdependent nature of processes and business functions is a must for ensuring the business in good shape to meet the challenges that Industry 4.0 will bring.
The extension and expansion of supply chains is another integral part of the factory of the future, and the idea of the extended enterprise is one of the issues at the heart of the Industry 4.0 concept. For manufacturers in particular, this entails breaking down traditional business barriers to work even closer with customers, suppliers and industry bodies - with this level of collaborative working seen as the only way to optimise productivity. As such, manufacturers should already be proactively seeking solutions which help to integrate supply chain partners to improve not only operational performance but also the flow of materials and the overall agility of the business itself. Plus, when it comes to dealing more closely with suppliers and customers, manufacturers need to look beyond simple procurement, instead employing solutions which facilitate complete and open channels for communication and collaboration.
Optimised processes inevitably lead to shorter timescales and increased efficiencies, piling on the pressure to improve the overall agility of the business. While there is no quick-fix solution that will simply turn the factory of today into the factory of the future, by putting the groundwork in now to optimise processes and maximise collaborative working with supply chain partners, manufacturers will reach the levels of agility and efficiency required to fully embrace the smart factory concept when the time is right.
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