Smart Machines & Factories
Communicate the change of Industry 4.0
Published:  20 October, 2017

Industry 4.0 will undoubtedly create a wealth of opportunities for new business models, new products and new solutions. We are only just beginning to understand the possibilities of a world where operating technologies and information technologies ‘talk’ directly to each other and make real decisions, using calculations outside the range of human capabilities. This has the potential to lead to enormous efficiencies in labour, material and energy. Neil Lewin, senior consultant at Festo Training & Consulting, reports.

The benefits are already taking shape in many ways. Using sensors that measure temperature, humidity and pressure, equipment can provide a heads-up when servicing is needed – reducing unplanned downtime. Real-time feedback around energy consumption means data can be tracked with accuracy and action taken immediately. Trackers can follow specific pieces of inventory through their journey, so that inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement can be immediately identified.

As with any technological advancement, Industry 4.0 does not come with guaranteed success. For every company where we see manufacturing techniques operating efficiently, we see another site where automation equipment lies gathering dust in a corner.

That’s because talk of Industry 4.0 is filling many employees’ hearts with dread. They are worried and anxious about what it means for them. They are concerned about the security of their jobs in this world where new job titles are being created daily. They might also be anxious about their level of skills, whether these will be required, if they are transferable – or even if they can be retrained. Industry 4.0 is a major change and people are naturally resistant to change.

As much as we need to be prepared for new technology, we need to be prepared to lead and support our people through change. The companies who manage change most successfully are the ones who take a long-term view. They look towards a possible future and inspire people with their vision. They engage their employees with how this can be achieved and the importance of their role in making the vision a reality. This takes strategic thinking, strong leadership, detailed planning – and stamina, as these steps can be long and challenging.

So how can leaders ensure they take their employees with them on the Industry 4.0 journey? Change needs to engage the whole team and to do this you need to consider how you communicate from the viewpoint of your people. Communicate to the head, heart and hand.

The head seems to rule in business. We talk about what it is we need to change, supported by hard facts and figures. This information is valuable, but if that is all you give your team they have no reason to be engaged.

Communicate to the heart by answering the ‘why’ question. Why is Industry 4.0 important? What does it mean to your facility and the future of your business? And why should the people who work for you care? If you can answer these questions, your people should engage in the change and you will gain their trust. However, if they don’t trust what you are saying, any form of communication will be interpreted as a crass attempt at manipulation.

Finally, you need to be there to guide your people throughout the change process. Not just at the beginning and then leaving them to get on with it. This is communicating to the hand. Failing to communicate during a change project can mean that you lose your team and undo the good work of earlier stages.

A solid foundation for Industry 4.0

In manufacturing, change should not be something that’s new. There is a reason that Industry 4.0 is possible. That’s because of the advancements that we’ve made in lean manufacturing. Taking out waste. Reducing complexity. Improving productivity. However, if these are not in place in existing manufacturing facilities, then Industry 4.0 might have the opposite effect and increase efficiencies.

Technology alone will not ensure the success of your Industry 4.0 strategy. We have seen some key areas where waste and inefficiency can often be identified and then eliminated.

Waste through overproduction means that you are either producing too much or too early. If you are consuming raw materials, energy, labour and machine time without corresponding revenue, this is a good place to start looking for inefficiencies. If the rule of thumb of lean manufacturing is to produce only what is needed, then look at the impact of increased production capability through Industry 4.0.

Having a lean supply chain where inventory is reduced will also improve efficiencies. If you’ve already got your supply chain lean and efficient, then it should be ready to support your move into Industry 4.0. However, you’ll also need to clarify the capabilities of your supply chain to support new manufacturing technology.

Any type of transport is a waste because it only adds cost, not value. If plans can be implemented to reduce or even remove transport completely, then profitability will improve. Just as with lean, finding ways to eliminate any unnecessary movement is critical for Industry 4.0 – both from the design and layout of a manufacturing facility but also for the people who will need to be onsite to oversee and maintain production.

In our existing facilities, waiting is easy to detect. Do employees often stand around waiting for machinery to be repaired or set-up? Or twiddle their thumbs while upstream processes or processing steps are completed? This may be down to unsynchronised production processes, rigid assignment (one person, one machine), inflexible working hours, high set up times and machine downtime. A review is needed to diagnose exactly where the problem lies and improve your processes to fix it. For Industry 4.0, waiting time is dead time in terms of production. Machines will be on stand-by and blockages will quickly occur.

What is clear is that technology alone is no guarantee of success. But by focusing solely on your processes, you run the risk of losing your most valuable asset – your people.

No one really knows where Industry 4.0 will take us in the future. Stay flexible and agile, have ongoing and open dialogue with your people, and continue to adopt the principles of lean. Then you will be prepared for the unexpected and well placed to fully take advantage of the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0.

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