What is Industry 4.0 and where do maintenance organizations fit in?

At a recent conference, I overheard two reliability engineers discussing whether or not the correct term was Industry 4.0 or Industrie 4.0.  Toe-mato or Ta-moto.  They queried their colleague who just walked up on his thoughts.  Pondering the question, he asked, “Can either of you explain to me what Industry/Industrie 4.0 is anyway?”  The two engineers then set off on giving their opinions, quite differently I might add, on what the term meant.   I later came to find out the third person was a Director of Maintenance  and what he was really trying to figure out  was Why Should I Care About Industry 4.0?

It may seem obvious, but it is worth restating, even if you don’t know the exact definition, that the wave of Industry 4.0 (we will use that term interchangeably with Industrie 4.0), is sweeping across our manufacturing sectors and it will, can and should impact the way organizations view their maintenance processes.

So, let’s start from a definition standpoint.

Ask for a quick definition and you quickly realize that there is no quick definition – other than Industry 4.0 represents the 4th Industrial Revolution behind 1) The invention of steam/water powered machines 2) Use of Electricity enabling the assembly line and 3) Rise of computers/robotics/intranet/internet allowing automation in manufacturing.  With Industry 4.0, we move from previously embedded systems to cyber-physical systems, lnternet of Things, Cloud Computing and Cognitive computing.  Simple, right?

The point is how companies manufacture, as well as how they take care of their assets, are changing.  How did we get here?   According to McKinsey, primarily because of four major disruptions that have occurred in the plant:

  • The massive increase in data volumes, computer power and connectivity (networks and sensors)
  • Increased advancement in analytics and business intelligence capabilities
  • Greatly enhanced forms of human-machine interaction – Augmented Reality or Touch Interfaces for the employee
  • Transfer of digital instructions to the physical world – Advanced Robotics or 3D Printing

Though the focus for Industry 4.0 is primarily in gaining insights and improvements in design/quality/yield/product lifecycle for manufacturing of product, there is growing realization that it is maintenance that can take advantage of these disruptions.  That maintenance of the company’s assets is an essential part of leveraging the components of Industry 4.0 to impact one’s organization.

McKinsey does a nice job of summarizing the components or “levers” as they call them, and the value they deliver for an organization.  The over arching reach of Industry 4.0 on a manufactures’ operation and where maintenance fits into the criticality of this strategy, can be viewed in the digital compass example below.

McKinsey & Company Digital Compass

The Acatech Industry 4.0 Maturity Index does a great job of revealing the various gates that are associated with implementing an Industry 4.0 strategy.

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Many companies have in place the “digitalization” piece of the process – their plant floors having been automated (robotics, CNC machines, etc…) or upgraded with new equipment or sensors.  The challenge is how to make the data that is being produced visible.  For maintenance operations, gaining visibility to that data is the critical starting point for Industry 4.0. Connected Maintenance achieves that visibility and provides the ability to catch problems before they are catastrophic. It can be further enhanced with Augmented Reality (AR) to create the Digital Twin of the asset to provide real-time asset performance in a format the technician can easily digest, not to mention the visual training aids and improvements the technology provides.

With this new found Visibility, you can then move forward to the next phase which is Transparency which represents true condition based monitoring of your assets.  This monitoring is needed to move into Predictive Capacity in which you begin to not only predict failures, but potentially begin to run simulations on your Digital Twin to determine how changing variables will impact the performance of your asset.  The final stage is Adaptability – where the organization can then make actual changes to processes based on the multiple inputs weighed against cost/benefit analysis.

It is easy for one to become paralyzed by the onslaught of available technology and the tremendous benefits, both real and envisioned, that Industry 4.0. promises.  So where do you start?  Keep in mind that as maintenance professionals, the information your teams are collecting about your day to day work is the foundation in which advanced analytics, as well as machine learning, will derive its value.  That means, consistent collection of: problem, fault, remedy codes, application of job plans to work orders, resources (internal/external, tools, inventory)…are more critical than ever.  In the past you may have lacked manpower, time or expertise to make correlations about all of this information – so it only mattered if you kept the asset running or got it repaired quickly.  Going forward, analytics and machine learning can make those correlations for you to do the 3 P’s of Maintenance – Prevent, Predict and Prescribe.  But it needs information to do that.

Connected Maintenance is the first step in that information gathering process and the foundation of any Industry 4.0 strategy.  Connecting existing sensored high value (revenue or cost impacting) assets to your asset management solution is a quick win. Your mantra should be Think Big, Start Small, Act Fast.  Keep an eye on the future with a platform that can grow with you, no matter where you end up on the Industry 4.0 maturity curve.  Determine a use case that is easy to implement and has a high return and do it now.  Rest assured, your competitors are…

A solid Industry 4.0 strategy will include a platform that is scalable to any size organization, and agile enough to quickly gain returns on investment. Gone are the days of multi-year implementation projects.  Connected maintenance is the beginning of the “yellow brick road”… each brick representing a quick connected win along the journey to gaining operational efficiencies. Don’t be afraid to move, or you may find yourself unable to move and in need of oil. Use your brain, have courage Think Big, Start Small, Act Fast…

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