Coronavirus boost for Industry 4.0: From cyber preparedness to skill building, how businesses must adapt

Published: June 30, 2020 2:18 PM

The current crises, if not for anything will only hasten our journey towards Industry 4.0. Some noticeable trends will determine this.

The business drivers of Industry 4.0 were focused on productivity, cost reduction, faster time to market, competitive advantage, sustainability and innovation.
  • By Bhaskar Mandal

It is indeed a difficult time for all of us as the global COVID-19 public health emergency continues to spread, creating challenges for families and impacting businesses worldwide. These uncertain times are also a test of our resilience: of our mindset, our processes and our people. While we had VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) aspect in almost all technology conversations, I’m not sure how many of us really anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic and had systems designed to overcome the challenges that we are enduring each day. Without doubt, I would rate the most important skill that we need during these times as agility. That too not just about a mindset, but agility that is aided by technology.

Even a month back, the business drivers of Industry 4.0 were focused on productivity, cost reduction, faster time to market, competitive advantage, sustainability and innovation. The goal was to make businesses function better and efficiently. However, when I look at the road ahead for Industry 4.0, there will be a few more parameters that we will have to think through. The current crises, if not for anything will only hasten our journey towards Industry 4.0.

There are some noticeable trends that will determine this:

Collaboration & computing will be re-engineered: Our ability to break through silos and cross virtual borders has passed the litmus test during this pandemic. Collaboration and virtual planning tools will be embraced even more in the future and compatibility across these platforms would be crucial. Demand for high-speed, secured WANs (wide area network) capable of handling high volume and velocity of data will also go up to support engineering value chains, graphics data to support design, simulation and validation. Remote High-Performance Computing (HPC) would also see investments to support engineering simulation. Engineering data management and project management will need to be digitalized and integrated with business systems like Enterprise Resource planning (ERP) and Customer relationship management (CRM). This will be valid not just for the large manufacturers but now extremely critical also for Indian SMEs if you view both Engineering Collaboration and Supply Chain collectively.

Remote monitoring of manufacturing operations: Remote monitoring of operations aided by Industrial Internet of things (IIOT) will be implemented on priority on the shop floor. With this, incorporation of digital twins and remote support from OEM’s will improve availability of assets. Adoption of SaaS (Software as a service) and Data analytics leveraging cloud would be the new normal with the need for real-time visibility into the availability of raw materials, finished goods, WIP, people and assets. Automation and robotics would also become key to maintain production with skeletal staff.

Manufacturers will also warm up to the idea of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to support non-value
added labor-intensive activities. AI and Block-chain technologies will lead to faster decision-making, better accountability & quality and traceability in manufacturing operations. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) would support material handling and line fulfillment – and will also help to reduce the reliance on people and to further assist social distancing. Predictive maintenance supported by data analytics, spares management, asset monitoring and Performance Based Logistics (PBL) would be the new norm.

Business operations would need restructuring: Businesses will have to de-risk against unstable supplies or dependencies on centralized manufacturing. There could be a trend towards onshoring versus the trend of offshoring in the past with a preference for local procurement. Readiness of local suppliers will be a crucial determinant here and I see a lot opportunity for Indian OEM’s and suppliers. Warehousing strategies also will have to be re-examined and Just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) inventory will be debated with respect to the prospect of a disrupted supply chain. De-centralized warehouses might need to be created to achieve buffers as a mitigation against disrupted supply chain. Digitalization of Logistics and Automated Warehousing Solutions will be a big opportunity.

Additive manufacturing will get a boost: During the COVID situation, we are seeing the need for parts that must be produced on demand because many of these parts are just missing by the original manufacturers. In industrial production, the prospect of additive techniques has been discussed since the 1990s. What is completely new is that we are starting to break away from single pieces and prototypes and moving from the tech center into serial production. Digital software tools have made this development possible. Rapid prototyping, hyper-customization and ability to manufacture small batches of product have all emerged as realities today with industrial customers’ need for additively made parts. The industrial world is only beginning to understand the value of additive manufacturing, and there is no doubt that new applications will continue to be discovered as the technology advances.

Cyber preparedness will have to be a way of life at Industry: A microbe in the real world has brought the world to its knees. Now imagine what havoc a synthesized microbe can cause if pushed into our industrial networks? In a connected world this has the potential to cause a chain reaction of devastation. Some might argue that seclusion and isolation is the only solution. However, the irony is that when you look at the current crises, a lot of industries, wish, that they were connected and could communicate remotely with their machines and teams. Hence, information and network security will become important evermore with the tech world moving to a newfound wave of convergence: Software is converging with Automation, Information Tech is meeting Operational Tech and Enterprise level is trying to become seamless with the manufacturing field. We will have to adopt technology; we will need to be connected and we will also need to be secure against the latest threats.

Learning and skill-building for the new normal: Needless to say, to support the above listed abilities, online and digital content would be needed for reskilling at all levels. A mindset and culture of continuous learning will have to be adopted across the hierarchy in all enterprises. The new normal is that this is not even a choice.

The need of the hour therefore is to relook at our business models and ensure a sustainable one. It needs to be looked at holistically right from design to production to services. In doing so, all available technologies especially Industry 4.0 must be evaluated to maximize the traditional KPIs as well as the emerging ones listed above. Only with this outlook, can our industries in India emerge stronger in the coming times.

  • Bhaskar Mandal is Head, Digital Industries, Siemens Limited. Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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