5 Ways Small and Mid-Sized Manufacturers Can Step into Industry 4.0

The potential of Industry 4.0 is incredible for a manufacturing business — if you have endless amounts of money to invest in high-tech upgrades. If you don’t, the future of manufacturing may feel inaccessible or unattainable for your shop.

Advancements like artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, machine learning, and integrated systems — the hallmarks of Industry 4.0 — are all expensive and highly complex. Plus, implementing and maintaining them presents a huge technical hurdle and requires new skill sets. For these reasons, many small and mid-sized manufacturers are questioning whether they can keep up with Industry 4.0 to remain competitive.

The good news is, you’re likely not as far behind as you think and you can get started right now. It may come as some relief that in a recent survey of executives, only 14% felt their companies were fully ready to harness the potential of Industry 4.0. Digital transformation across the industry is forcing all manufacturers, big and small, to adapt on the fly.

Better still, Industry 4.0 is not nearly as inaccessible as many small and mid-sized manufacturers expect. All it takes is the right investments and improvements; you don’t have to go all-in, all at once.

Here are some ways your manufacturing company can take the first steps into Industry 4.0 so you can keep up with the latest and keep your competitive edge.

1. Set an Agenda for Your Digital Transformation

Staying competitive Industry 4.0 is less about embracing specific technologies and more about cultivating a company-wide mindset that prioritizes efficiency and optimization through data. Building that mindset is important, even if Industry 4.0 advancements currently feel out of reach for your shop. Start by appointing a leader to guide your transformation. This person can begin investigating options, studying budgets, developing timelines, and coordinating stakeholders. This person will also be responsible for building employee buy-in and dispelling any resistance to change.

Work with your digital transformation leader, and other stakeholders at your company, to craft a timeline for upgrading your company’s technologies and for implementing new systems. You may find that some advancements are within reach in the next few years, while others will take a longer. Identify the systems, technology capabilities, internal processes, and skill sets that your company will need to have in place before adopting any Industry 4.0 advancement — create timelines for getting these foundations in place. This way you are actively working to prepare for Industry 4.0 even if the projected benefits are in the future.

2. Upgrade Your ERP

A modern ERP solution doesn’t just help you organize data; it helps you leverage data to make decisions about the future of your business. If your existing ERP system is outdated or no longer fits your business needs, upgrading your solution is the first step to giving your organization the technology foundation you need to keep up with Industry 4.0.

With an advanced ERP solution, you can collect mass amounts of data in real-time and employ predictive analytics to stay on top of your supply chain, your internal operations, and market changes. Consider whether cloud-based ERP or on-premise ERP is right for your company. For some small manufacturers, cloud-based ERP is the perfect solution to reduce costs and maintenance needs while still reaping the benefits of a robust ERP system.

If there are production problems looming or supply chain issues building, ERP enables you to identify these in advance. The predictive analytics capabilities with ERP allow you forecast performance, develop new products, and plan your business strategy. The right ERP solution turns data into insights. In Industry 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes will need an ERP system as the foundation for data management and technology integration needed to embrace new industry advancements.

3. Improve Your Data Management Practices

Data is the lifeblood of Industry 4.0. With an up-to-date ERP solution you now have the ability to gather and analyze mass amounts of data, but you still need to know how to manage and pull insights from that data in order to make use of it. Without the right policies, practices, and technologies in place it’s easy for data to become destroyed or disorganized. Getting better at data management is important even if you don’t yet have a use for the data. The more historical data you store now the better your insights will be once you have things like machine learning in place.

4. Find an IoT Consultant

Connected devices are everywhere now, underscoring how much the price has dropped and the capabilities have improved. Adopting an IoT strategy is financially realistic, but the technical side is challenging. Working with an IoT consultant can reveal when, where and how to best implement IoT into your operation. Even if it’s not factory-wide it gives you a valuable, real-time perspective over specific processes.

5. Scout for Automation Opportunities

Instead of trying to automate the whole factory, look for selective opportunities to put processes on autopilot. Equipment maintenance, for instance, is vastly improved by automation because it helps you maximize your maintenance budget while minimizing equipment downtime. This type of automation is not out of reach for even small manufacturers. This is just one of many examples of small-scale automation that are accessible now.

6. Get Your Business Ready for Additive Manufacturing

You don’t need to incorporate an additive manufacturing (AM) practice into your operations right away. In many ways, AM as an industry still has a lot of growing to do before it can be suited for all manufacturing sectors. Still, all manufacturers should be preparing now in order to be ready to adopt AM when it’s time. This means getting a strong technology foundation in place starting today, and putting time into understanding the skills, training, and processes your company will need to use AM effectively. To learn more about what your company can do today to get ready for the age of AM, read our e-book on preparing to adopt AM.

Don’t Wait to Enter Industry 4.0

By one estimate, Industry 4.0 will add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030. That dollar figure is staggering, but the timeline suggest there is not much time to spare to start transforming. Don’t shoot for the moon. Instead, focus on your data and build up from there. When you’re ready make progress, reach out to Cre8tive Technology and Design(Opens in a new window). Our team of technology experts supports manufacturing businesses of all sizes in navigating digital transformation and preparing for success in Industry 4.0.

Posted in ERP