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How To Implement Your Industry 4.0 Strategy

Who should lead your Industry 4.0 strategy?

Most small and mid-sized manufacturers are only now starting to grapple with Industry 4.0 on their plant floors. Many are suppliers to larger OEMs, such as automakers, that are squeezing them to provide more traceability on their products. While these companies know they need to act, they continue to put it off, unsure of how to make the first step and who on their team should lead the charge. Industry 4.0 covers a lot of territory. A practical place to start is by making more effective use of process and test data. Such “part production data” can be used to improve traceability and quality, drive higher first-time yields and predict equipment maintenance to avoid unexpected downtime. The quality and process engineers down on the plant floor would seem like the logical choice to make this kind of initiative succeed since they would be the first to realize the benefits. But they are often too busy with the needs of the hour to give it due consideration. This then leaves the organization’s IT department as an option. However, in most cases, the IT team simply lacks sufficient knowledge of their plant’s manufacturing processes and the crucial role that process data from the line has to play in Industry 4.0 quality gains to lead this kind of project. How can a manufacturer avoid having its Industry 4.0 ambitions trapped in this unclosed loop between IT, management and engineering? Here are some questions to consider:

What external pressures are you facing to embark on an Industry 4.0 transformation?

Many manufacturers that are suppliers to larger OEMs feel pressured to deliver greater transparency, accountability and traceability. OEMs are understandably concerned about the negative PR and the financial impact of warranty claims and recalls. In these situations, the need for change is real and immediate.

Who on the team should champion the effort?

A supplier’s relationship with an OEM is usually owned by a product manager and/or salesperson who serves as the direct point of contact. They are in the best position to appreciate the need and the urgency. That puts them in the prime role of champion to get the rest of the team on the same page. If someone else in the organization is already preaching Industry 4.0 to deaf ears (such as an IT member or quality engineer) and is better suited to the role of champion, that product manager/salesperson can be a key ally to help make the case to everyone else.

How is your part production data currently being collected?

Serialized production makes Industry 4.0 transformation, and the return on that investment, a whole lot easier to realize. Having process and test data from the line integrated and cross-referenced by the serial number of the individual part/sub-assembly is key to boosting quality and traceability on the line.

Where do you start?

Simple and small – pick a single persistent quality issue on the production line and see how more granular data collection and analysis can a) address the problem and b) aid in tracking down any parts that may have been comprised by the issue. This will prove the concept by addressing a real problem that is already having real consequences for the business, while keeping the cost in the event of failure to a minimum.

Closing remarks on Industry 4.0

For a majority of manufacturers, the path to Industry 4.0 is not yet well-defined or under control. As with any major shift in the status quo, it takes broad-based support from across the org chart and taking the right steps to get it done right. Jeff McBee goes deeper into this subject in his “Smart Industry” (April 2019) article, Who should be your digital-transformation champion?
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