Manufacturing companies with visions of incorporating the latest automated, cloud-based, analytical tech into their production process need to recognize the value of a measured approach, an original equipment manufacturing (OEM) veteran says.
Martin Stephenson, vice president of process automation for OEM Schneider Electric Canada, which specializes in power management, building management, datacentres, and process and automation control, says that while some firms are equipped to embrace the change right away, others might find that implementing what he calls “Industry 4.0” isn’t a good fit for them at all.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” he says. “Customers need to have a truthful conversation with themselves and say, ‘How do we manage what we do now? Are we ready for this step? … Do we have the right infrastructure? Do we have the right cybersecurity in place?’ There are a lot of discussions to be had before this leap of faith happens.”
It doesn’t help that many manufacturers are confused by the term “Industry 4.0,” as Stephenson discovered during a June 12 panel discussion at the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Big Data & M2M Summit in Mississauga, Ontario.
Stephenson himself defines Industry 4.0 as the convergence of operational technology and IIoT, though he admits that unlike the first four phases of industry – 1.0, which was the industrial revolution; 2.0, mass production; and 3.0, automation – 4.0 is less universal and more specialized depending on the end-user’s industry: a mining company’s version of 4.0 will look very different from a food or beverage manufacturer.
The good news for disciples of Industry 4.0 and IIoT is that the philosophy behind them is segment-agnostic, Stephenson says.
“Whatever segment you’re in, there are clear opportunities for you as a business to engage with the philosophy and optimize your plant,” he says.
That said, Schneider Electric prefers to frame Industry 4.0 as a transformation rather than a revolution, he says.
“The reason for that is… a lot of customers are still living in the 3.0 world and there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to automation and control – across the globe, not just in Canada,” Stephensen says – and with version 3.0 not yet universally implemented, many industries are confused by the idea of a version 4.0.
And if the decision-makers behind a manufacturing firm truly believe in moving forward quickly, he says – emphasizing that it may not be necessary – there are three simple steps they can take.
Step 1: Engage with senior management
“A lot of the discussion in Industry 4.0 is built around changing the culture… moving from automation and control towards true cloud-based services and inter-operability,” Stephensen says. “So you need to make sure that you have executive sponsors, and that your on-site leadership is into the principles of 4.0.”
Another advantage of making sure that senior management is onboard: the company’s leadership may have a better idea of how easily their firm’s manufacturing process could adapt to Industry 4.0, with sectors that have embraced automation such as the food and beverage industry typically more comfortable than less advanced industries such as mining, Stephenson says.
“There are very few food and beverage manufacturing sites across the globe that aren’t automated,” he says. “So when you talk about transforming food and beverage, it’s in constant flux already, so going to 4.0 is not a great step.”
By contrast, mining, mineral, and metal companies are still performing the same fundamental work they were doing 40 years ago, he says, and so their industries haven’t really transformed to the same extent.
“Without a doubt there have been some fantastic adaptations to the mining process, but there hasn’t really been a transformation,” Stephenson says.
Step 2: Make sure there is a clear connection between the IT and OT departments
Once senior management is onboard, the same negotiation process needs to be applied to a company’s IT and OT departments, Stephenson says.
After all, the end result will be collecting information generated by the manufacturing process – conveyors, pumps, actuators, barrels, sensors – and storing it on cloud servers, which then need to be monitored, analyzed, updated, and protected by the IT department.
“Connect your IT people and process people in daily conversations, workshops, and workstreams, to make sure they realize that it’s a joint responsibility to help move their company forward towards industry 4.0,” Stephenson says. “Neither side can do it without support and engagement from the other.”
Step 3: Start small
Needless to say, moving a company’s manufacturing process from Industry 3.0 to 4.0 is a huge, often daunting investment, Stephenson says, which is why he recommends starting with small-scale on-site projects that let workers see the value they can reap from Industry 4.0 first.
One example is a site’s low- or medium-voltage infrastructure, which can be quickly connected to a cloud network and displayed on a rudimentary dashboard so that key executives can monitor energy usage on-site, he says. Another example is simple administration schedules that can monitor equipment for preventative maintenance, or use analytics to optimize energy management.
And if you’re not ready?
There are some instances in which the company may simply not be ready for Industry 4.0, Stephenson says, and while a reputable supplier – such as Schneider Electric – will be happy to provide no-obligation consultations, manufacturers should also take a long, hard look at themselves under the microscope of what he calls the “four V’s” of big data:
- How do we manage the Volume of big data we currently have gathered from our assets?
- How do we manage the Variety of big data sources that we currently have within our infrastructure?
- How do we manage the Velocity?
- How do we manage the Veracity – the accuracy of the data itself?
For better or worse, many companies simply don’t have a firm grip on their existing library of big data, Stephenson says.
“If it doesn’t have great accuracy, the veracity isn’t good. If a company doesn’t manage the volume of big data particularly well, or the variety of sources particularly well, its big data doesn’t have great integrity,” he says. “And if the company doesn’t quite have its arms around its existing infrastructure, the last thing it should be doing is doubling and trebling and quadrupling the volume of big data it’s trying to push to the cloud.”