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Mfg 4.0: Innovation or Bottleneck?

Posted on September 28th, 2016 by in New Materials & Applications


Image by stevepb [CC0 Public Domain ], via pixabay

Just because the technology exists for my toaster to query my breadbox concerning the freshness, supply, and type of bread on hand before I get out of bed in the morning, should it?

While reading a recent article on the critical issues roadmap for Industry 4.0 – particularly concerning the proposed connectivity of products, supply chains, and factories – I couldn’t help but wonder if the proposed roadmap for Manufacturing 4.0 risks over complicating well learned out and efficient existing processes? Does the future state represent “cracking a peanut with a sledgehammer” as my father used to say?

Based on the annual agenda of the Manufacturing Leadership Council – a group of senior level executives from organizations across the globe hosted by Frost & Sullivan – the full report details six areas of focus industry experts agree are critical to realizing Manufacturing 4.0:

  1. Factories of the Future
  2. The Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise
  3. Innovation in Manufacturing
  4. Transformative Technologies
  5. Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership & the Changing Workforce
  6. Cybersecurity in Manufacturing

Many of the focus areas rely on digital connectedness of organizations, processes, devices and supply chains. Digital threads to connect and provide real time feedback on operation success, anomalies and conditions that could impact efficiency and throughput. Statistical process control (SPC) is certainly a proven approach and having the capacity to adjust in real time to ever changing factory conditions would enable finer control and improved throughput. However, does “end-to-end” necessarily require a digital model on the packaging operation for example? How does investing the time and expense of a 3D model of Styrofoam packaging “peanuts” for example really improve the manufacturing outcome?

One of the key enabling technologies of the Manufacturing 4.0 vision is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The following video from IBM paints a clear vision to how the technology works and some of the proposed benefits.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not intended to be an indictment of Manufacturing 4.0 or the promise of enabling connected technologies. Overall, the agenda laid out by the Manufacturing Leadership Council appears to be well founded offering much promise for manufacturing companies small and large. In the spirit of Kaizen, it is incumbent on all engineering and manufacturing organizations to identify and implement those technologies or approaches demonstrating real improvement. Remember, improvement is not made in a conference room.

Where on the implementation scale is your company on the journey to Manufacturing 4.0? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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