There is a new trend emerging in the manufacturing sector known as Industry 4.0. The Industry 4.0 concept is one of harnessing technology to create smart factories capable of producing the goods consumers want at a cost they can afford, all while increasing profits. At the core of Industry 4.0 is big data.
Manufacturers looking to stay at the cutting edge of Industry 4.0 are finding themselves having to digitalize just about every process in the production environment. But they cannot stop there. Digitalization has to continue into supply chain management, logistics, and so forth. Creating a truly smart factory is all about digitalizing every process that goes into producing goods and getting them to store shelves.
This is easier said than done, according to the people at Rock West Solutions. As a company that specializes in sensor technology and big data analytics, they know that digitalization presents a lot of challenges manufacturers are not necessarily equipped to overcome.
Digitalizing the Automotive Industry
One of the earliest examples of manufacturing digitalization is observed in the adoption of robotics by automotive manufacturers. Carmakers were among the very first to embrace robots on the assembly line. Had they not done so, automotive manufacturing would look a lot different today.
Robotics positioned carmakers to produce more cars at a lower cost. They improved quality, leading to more standardization, and kept open plants that otherwise would have closed. The example robotics offers is proof that digitalization can make manufacturing better.
What manufacturers are now beginning to realize is that robotics alone are not enough. Robots are very capable of performing repetitive tasks. But they are not capable of working among themselves to create a better, more efficient production environment. That still requires human beings collecting data, analyzing it, and then finding ways to make improvements.
The Role of Big Data
The reality is that Industry 4.0 is impossible to implement without embracing big data. At the lower and middle management levels for example, managers need access to large volumes of data pertaining to production. They also need to know what that data means and how to use it. Relying on root cause analysis no longer works because it is reactive rather than proactive.
Companies like Rock West Solutions are tasked with developing new and better ways to harvest data. But they cannot stop there. They must also develop, in parallel, better ways to analyze and use collected data. That involves embracing technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced signal processing.
When It All Comes Together
Harnessing big data in order to facilitate Industry 4.0 is no easy task. But when it all comes together, the results are truly amazing. Smart factories become the models of efficiency and productivity originally predicted decades ago.
So what is preventing it all from coming together in American factories? Rock West Solutions says there are three things, beginning with mindset. It is awfully difficult to get decision-makers to embrace technology they do not know or understand. They know what has always worked for them, and they are inclined to stick with it.
Second is the problem of interoperability. A truly smart factory isn’t smart only on the production floor. It is also smart in the design office, quality control, maintenance, and even sales and marketing. This presents an interoperability problem that has to be overcome.
Last but not least is the sheer size of big data. Our data gathering capabilities currently outpace our ability to use all the data we collect. Industry 4.0 will only become the norm when this particular problem is sorted out.