Described as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is changing the very nature of manufacturing, with companies racing to find ways to transform and update their existing technologies and capabilities.
The integration of digitalisation and data exchange into the manufacturing process has led to the rapid growth of what are known as smart factories, where cyber-physical systems play increasingly significant roles alongside human counterparts. Manufacturers can no longer simply make physical products, but must also find ways to create additional value for customers, through increased connectivity and data capture and analysis. Inevitably, this shift is changing the manufacturing industry and the way individual companies do business.
According to a survey by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2016, there is a 'gaping hole' in British manufacturers' understanding of Industry 4.0. The new digital design processes and smarter factories will create improved and more efficient production facilities. However, UK manufacturers must respond to these developments now and ensure they are meeting the ever-changing demands of their customers in an ever-developing technological society.
How to transition to Industry 4.0
One company currently responding to this progression and starting out on its Industry 4.0 evolution is Essentra Components, a global manufacturer and supplier of essential components. As a large organisation with a global footprint, Essentra Components understands the need to align its existing technologies with the principles of Industry 4.0. Although no longer an entirely new manufacturing concept, the company is confident that it will, in time, revolutionise its approach and therefore how it delivers products for its customers.
The demands placed on manufacturers are increasingly complex; the market is saturated with choice and customers demand better value for their products. Manufacturers must find new ways to add value for customers beyond the physical creation of the product itself. Much of this value can be supplied through data analysis of production lines and digitalisation of supply chains. More emphasis is being placed on information and sophisticated data gathering within the manufacturing Industry, requiring manufacturers to equip themselves to supply it. As customers incorporate Industry 4.0 in to their own businesses, manufacturers must ensure their process is flexible and can adapt to align seamlessly with different customer supply chains.
Essentra Components is just beginning its Industry 4.0 journey, introducing greater digitalisation and automation. For Essentra Components, this has meant far higher levels of connectivity in its injection moulding machines. This digitalisation drives efficiencies throughout the entire supply chain, resulting in lower costs and significant time savings. For example, the implementation of an online customer order platform means customers can place orders on demand 24 hours a day. This process speeds up the digital prototype procedure, enabling Essentra Components to provide customers with high-quality samples quickly.
As well as digitising and automating physical production and prototyping processes, Industry 4.0 is also driven by the rise in data, analytics and business intelligence requirements. By investing in highly sophisticated data collection and analytics, manufacturers can improve product development and strengthen their customer offer. Manufacturers can further improve their products using real-time feedback on this data, which can then be looped back into the systems to improve efficiencies for the next round of production runs. This sort of transformation is a huge step for traditional manufacturers and is a significant financial undertaking for any business; however, customers will significantly reap the benefits.
By sharing production data via the cloud, Essentra Components is working with customers to deepen their understanding of the manufacturing process, allowing them to make more informed and intelligent decisions about their products. Essentra Components also shares stock and future planning information with customers, ensuring complete transparency across the entire supply chain. This is in tandem with the rollout of cloud-based planning software – SO99 – which allows the company to further collaborate with customers around demand forecasts. Advancements in data and analytics have enabled the company to carve an approach to product development and its wider services based on meaningful insights, adding value for customers at every stage. The new technology also improves efficiency, allowing Essentra to better respond to customers and behaviour changes, while still ensuring product quality.
As part of its Industry 4.0 journey, Essentra Components is already planning the next phase of integration of cutting-edge technologies. The company has begun moving towards complete digitalisation of product data and key manufacturing processes, as well as process controls. In the long term, the company wants to place IoT at the heart of the business. Through Essentra's existing cloud, each physical system will register key information and then pass that data onto the next step in the process. This all forms part of Essentra Components long-term investment strategy and will eventually allow it to develop a complete end-to-end supply chain.
As a highly complex global business aligning with the principles of industry 4.0 through digitalisation, automation and data collection are key to helping Essentra Components improve efficiencies while keeping costs low and maintaining customer experience. With multiple sites, hundreds of production lines and 30,000 of products across the globe, Industry 4.0 will be vital to ensuring Essentra Components can continue to compete on a global scale.
Ultimately, this transition to Industry 4.0 will take time, but looking to the long term both manufacturers and customers can reap the benefits of this digitalisation and creation of smarter factories. Essentra Components is responding proactively to these technological demands to ensure it can continue to compete on a global scale.
There are precautionary measures to consider for manufacturers implementing or planning to implement Industry 4.0 practices. However, the key to success comes in the realisation that through data and connectivity, digital process can enhance the physical result. Digitalisation, automation and data collection will define the manufacturing industry for years to come and we must all develop our services to ensure we are not left behind.
For more information about Essentra Components go to www.essentracomponents.co.uk.