The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has received much press attention over the past few years, bringing with it the promise of automation, efficiency and output like never before.
However, when it comes to implementing this, UK manufacturers are standing still. Following a new report on the attitudes of UK industry towards Industry 4.0, Gary Price, International Product Manager, Automation and Services at ERIKS UK, examines what is holding manufacturing back, and why its inertia may prove costly in the long term.
It's an exciting time for manufacturing as the rise of Industry 4.0 gathers pace. The advantages are clear: more automation, less downtime, slicker processes and smarter decisions.
With all of the hype surrounding Industry 4.0, it’s tempting to dismiss it as another bandwagon on which to hop. There are also valid concerns about how automation will affect jobs, the increasing sophistication of cybercrime, and the cost of implementing the technologies needed to connect an entire factory floor.
Nevertheless, Industry 4.0 remains the most important development for manufacturing industry this century and businesses must adapt, or fail.
A recent report by ERIKS UK, titled: Is the UK ready for Industry 4.0? Industrial maintenance in a connected world of Big Data, reveals that many manufacturers have yet to implement any aspects of Industry 4.0, despite seeing it as a potentially
positive asset to production.
Over 80 per cent of the managers interviewed stated that it would be an advantage, particularly in the field of predictive maintenance. Many cited the ability to monitor machine problems and target maintenance resources, as key benefits of a connected production line. Despite this, 61 per cent had yet to implement any form of Industry 4.0 initiatives in their own business. According to the report, industry is experiencing several barriers to implementation, which may go some way towards explaining this inertia.
Data and the threat of cyber crime
Although Industry 4.0 relies on open collaboration and data sharing, manufacturing industry is hesitant to put this into practice. In fact, 79 per cent of those interviewed would offer limited or no disclosure of information to a third party or Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). One interviewee cited the confidential nature of their data and the large costs involved should that data be leaked or stolen.
Although this is understandable, there seems to be some conflict between what manufacturers say they need, and what they put into practice. Over 56 per cent said that they needed support from an OEM to analyse their data and perform necessary repairs because they did not have the skills in-house. It seems odd, therefore, that manufacturers are unwilling to share data, despite needing to do so to keep their factory floors working.
The shortage of data skills in the UK means that this problem will only exacerbate. Without the knowledge to predict faults before they occur, manufacturers will rely on reactive maintenance, thus increasing downtime and incurring the costs that they had hoped to avoid by keeping their data under lock and key.
Another interesting aspect is attitude and one of the biggest factors in this, is in fact age. According to the report, the younger generation of 25-33-year olds who, perhaps unsurprisingly, understand the potential of Industry 4.0 and are more comfortable with sharing data. Crucially they appear to understand the need for support from the OEM or technical partner in order to accurately use data for diagnosis and fault-finding.
In contrast however, more than half of current senior managers admitted to a poor knowledge of Industry 4.0, this age group is also more likely to be suspicious of data sharing. The latter is particularly concerning, when you consider that it is often those in senior positions that will dictate how the UK adapts to Industry 4.0 over the next few years.
For many managers, making the most of Industry 4.0 may feel like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. The challenge lies in changing attitudes towards connected, collaborative workplaces. Granted, security of data is a concern, and will remain so, a key consideration for everyone, but this should be at the detriment of industry progression. By holding back the implementation of Industry 4.0 purely on this basis, managers run the risk of missing the chance to compete successfully in the global marketplace.
The point here is clear, whilst manufacturers know their own production processes, machine suppliers know their machines, it is the third party maintenance supplier who has the expertise in the individual components and sub-assemblies that go into not only that machine but all machines across the site giving a broader coverage. It is often this technical know-how that keeps operations moving and its importance therefore should not be overlooked. In fact, 56% of respondents in our report said that they need the support of the OEM for machine diagnostics and fault-finding and yet are reluctant to share the relevant data with them or technical specialists.
What is clear to see is that there are many challenges ahead and no simple overarching solution. Yes industry 4.0 will require significant investment, but it will also require a cultural change within businesses, we must embrace data sharing and collaboration. We should remember that UK manufacturing produces some of the most remarkable innovations in the world. We cannot let it falter. Industry 4.0 must be embraced, and the time to do so is now.
Click the Report below to download you free copy of ERIKS Research Paper.