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The Real Challenges of Industry 4.0

Vladimir Romanov
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Having worked & consulted for top manufacturing companies, such as Procter & Gamble, Kraft Heinz as well as Post Holdings, I wanted to reflect as to what I believe are the challenges of what we’re now commonly discussing as Industry 4.0.

Before we dive in, for those who aren’t familiar with the notion of Industry 4.0, I wanted to provide a brief overview. Industry 4.0 is defined as the next driving force which will change the manufacturing landscape, increase productivity and allow manufacturing companies to react much quicker to market changes. This change is primarily driven by connectivity which encompasses all areas on the production floor as well as the entire enterprise. In other words, every sensor, controller, server, switch, applications, control terminals are connected & are gathering data which can be then used to drive improvements & changes.

Although we’ve made tremendous advances in technology in recent years, we still have many challenges to solve: human resources, adaptability & willingness to change, R&D & Risk Management, Ongoing Training & long term vision.

Human Resources

Technology alone isn’t capable of driving change within an organization. Every initiative requires a leader who’s capable to envision the end result, provide a plan of execution and lead the project. Furthermore, as there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to manufacturing, a leader is required to drive changes after the initial delivery. In other words, it’s an ongoing process that requires the collaboration of multiple parties: operations, systems integrators, IT, CI managers, etc.

A unique skill set that combines industry knowledge, as well as technical insight into what’s possible, is thus required for those who are leading & implementing this change.

Adaptability & Willingness to Change

Most of us are risk-averse. However, there’s no progress without courage. Leaders within the manufacturing industry must be willing to take certain risks in order to seek improvements.

We’ve had many conversations with clients who kept questioning projects, their feasibility & our ability to deliver without any impact on current production. We understand the concerns with moving forward with such initiatives and are doing everything that’s possible in order to mitigate risk. However, it’s important to understand that when you make significant changes to your process, there’s always a risk.

There’s always risk…

Adaptability & Willingness to Change

R&D & Risk Management

The notion of Research and Development ties in well with the point made above. Research and Development isn’t just a department to create new products. R&D in a manufacturing setting can refer to a smaller initiative such as improving a machine through mechanical adjustments.

In the case above, it’s important to dedicate time to projects aimed at improving the process. The time spent will allow those involved to test an idea which they believe will bring an increased reliability or production rate. By spending time to test ideas, you empower your people to drive changes & allow them to get involved in the process of driving the plant toward a common goal.

Ongoing Training

We all require tools to perform the task at hand efficiently. The “Tools” part is what’s ambiguous for different tasks. We tend to easily associate the need for training for physical tools. There’s no question about the requirement of fork-lift training for warehouse employees. However, we tend to forget that software, communication & leadership fall under that category as well. Regardless of what the tool may be, it’s important to make sure that those who are executing changes have access to training materials. Technology changes, approaches change, people change organizations, etc.

On a practical level, tools are often miss-understood or aren’t applied as taught. I’ve had the privilege to receive training on the IWS tools from Procter & Gamble. One of the most effective tools I remember was a fish-bone diagram. It’s also known as the 5 whys or the Root Cause Analysis (RCS) in other organizations. The goal of the tool is to help the individual figure out the root cause of a problem by guiding them through pre-defined steps. In practice, those who miss-understood the purpose would simply fill out the sections in order to “meet a requirement” of having filled out a sheet. In this particular case, the process of going through the structured approach is more important than the deliverable.

Non-physical tools are not as straightforward to understand and thus require ongoing training, continuous reinforcement and a structured audit in order to be effective within an organization.

Long Term Vision

Everything takes time. As we deploy a new piece of technology, a new tool or a new practice into the organization, we need to establish a long term vision. There’s always a learning curve and adoption timeframe with every initiative.

Cultivating passion within our teams is key. We strive to bring initiatives to life, but without the buy-in from our colleagues, projects may inadvertently fail. As we sell our vision to the team, our goal should be to convey a positive future in which the team will share their success & potentially receive certain benefits as a byproduct of their work and involvement.

To new challenges!

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