Humans have always been engaged in some type of manufacturing, from the days when the first prehistoric hunters and gatherers created tools to make their jobs easier. Today, the way we manufacture goods has changed enormously.
Manufacturing in the 21st century is now automated and has the lowest levels of human involvement in history. What does this mean for you? Read on to learn how Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing will impact your organization and how you can weather these changes to stay agile and competitive.
Defining Industry 4.0 and Digital Manufacturing
“Industry 4.0” is the translation of a German term coined by the German government. The phrase refers to the fourth evolution of the manufacturing revolution. While the first three were powered by such advances as mechanization, steam power, the assembly line, and computer automation, the fourth age of the Industrial Revolution involves cyber physical systems. Cyber physical systems are a combination of software, sensors, processors, and ICT.
Digital manufacturing is an extension of digital transformation, which is the application of new technologies to improve business models, systems, and processes to become more profitable. Cisco defines “digital manufacturing” as using a secure IT network to increase factory uptime, enable mass customization, lower product introduction cycles, and future-proofs your factory.
Why Do Industry 4.0 and Digital Manufacturing Matter?
You might be reading this and say, “This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with me?” The era of Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing are already here. If you’re not implementing these technologies, you risk becoming outdated and irrelevant.
Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing make manufacturing safer and less expensive. When you don’t have many (if any) humans involved, you don’t have to worry about injuries. Moreover, digitized equipment doesn’t take vacation or sick days. You could program an entire factory to operate for a set number of hours and then to shut the lights off at the end of the day.
Moreover, Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing mean that you can customize your output to meet the needs of your audience. Legacy equipment and techniques don’t provide that flexibility. By being able to adapt to changing demands, you can stay agile and flexible.
We’ll go back to the point about becoming outdated and irrelevant, because it bears emphasis. Major companies in a variety of industries are adopting Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing techniques. We’ll use the fashion retailer Zara as an example: it is bolstering its reputation for fast fashion by adding RFID tags to its products. Store employees can now quickly update inventory, a process which used to take far more staff and more time. Boeing is another example. It developed frames for the 777 and the 787 using an all-virtual design. That move reduced the company’s time to market by 50%.
McKinsey notes that Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing are at their earliest stages. However, the companies that embrace them now are best positioned to reap the greatest benefits – don’t get left behind.