If last month’s report from Boston Consulting Group about the slow implementation among US manufacturers of the means to achieve the possibilities articulated in the vision of Industry 4.0 hasn’t reached your desk yet, let me summarize the findings. While 90 percent of US manufacturers confirm that their organizations see value in terms of productivity and efficiency in the digitization of their operations, only one in four is looking beyond the incremental improvements to greater opportunities in generating new revenue streams. This short-sightedness limits the scope of transformative strategy and reinforces the industry’s profile of slow to move, rigid and no longer the engine of economic good we all want and need it to be. That’s got to change.
If we agree that the digital pivot is indeed an innovation that manufacturing needs to make, how then, to shift the mindset? Manufacturers tend to be skeptics – the work required to transform raw materials into finished goods isn’t easy – and many have been around implementations that were big on promise and not much more. I’m not saying it’ll be easy to change minds, but it can be done.
I believe that the expansion of automation will be the accelerator of the changes necessary to making the digital pivot. What manufacturers need is a way to test, prove and repeat the innovations. That’s where the smart application of software-driven robots comes into play, offering a way to build the factories of the future from the work cell up and out. The robots will use computer brains to learn new tasks, how to use new tools and be able to share with human colleagues insight into processes that can improve both productivity and quality. As new software is developed, the robots will gain new skills and ultimately shared with robots initially in the same place, and eventually across the entire organization. Ultimately, information from product design and development, marketing and sales will seamlessly be streamed to the robots which will be able to modify production strategies based on the information.
When information and insight flow back and forth between the “front office” and the production floor and can be acted upon in real-time, supply chains are more fluid and adaptive to shifts in conditions. Robots that bridge the physical and cognitive aspects of automation accelerate that flow and make the possibilities of the digital pivot that much easier to attain and valuable.
Originally published on Beet Fusion.