It is early morning, and you get out of bed after a restless night of sleep. You go through your normal morning routine. You are pre-occupied with something you saw in a blog you read yesterday. A small manufacturer was explaining how Industry 4.0 is being deployed in their operations. You have thought about the need for more digital solutions in your plant, but with COVID-19 and a challenging market you have yet to begin to use these new tools. You wonder, “Am I losing ground on my competition? When should I start to deploy Industry 4.0?”
If you are asking yourself this question, you are not alone. In South Carolina, there are hundreds of small manufacturers. There are only a handful of large manufacturers in the state: BMW, Volvo, Boeing, Michelin, Bosch, and the like. For small factories, despite their size, there is plenty of opportunity to deploy Industry 4.0 techniques to improve business results. Do not assume small plants cannot be as good as the large manufacturers when it comes to technology. In fact, they can be better. There are several things to consider getting started.
How does one start? If you are small, you may not have staff that is knowledgeable or experienced in these new systems and techniques. One way to get started is to find an Industry 4.0 partner. You don’t have to go far to find these firms. There are many Industry 4.0 providers in South Carolina who would like to help you improve your business.
What should you look for in an Industry 4.0 partner? Making change in the factory can be difficult. The technical solution is normally the easiest part of the implementation. Most often the hardest part of implementing a change is helping those who will work with the new methods embrace a new way of working. The Industry 4.0 partner should understand this challenge and be able to work with your employees on the shop floor engaging them in solution development. Your partner also
needs to be committed to you as a customer. Just because you are a small manufacturer does not mean that you don’t deserve first class service and support.
How fast should Industry 4.0 techniques be implemented? One needs to look at this deployment as a journey, not a destination. Your goal is to transform your factory with the latest digital technology. As new problems arise and new tools become available, you will continue to make change. An important mindset to have is that this journey is ongoing and never ending.
What are the digital systems you already have in place? Even small manufacturers have systems in place in the factory that support equipment performance, capture data, and enable individuals to communicate with one another. A mapping of the digital systems is necessary to know what your factory has on which it can build and advance, or what needs to be removed.
How do you choose where to start? Have you ever thought about what it would take to eat an elephant? This would certainly be a daunting task. An adage often shared when the problem seems insurmountable is “Eat the elephant one bite at a time!” In other words, your overall task may be big but if you break it down into small pieces and accomplish one at a time you will surprise yourself with how much can be accomplished in a short time.
This approach is also relevant for Industry 4.0. Prioritize your needs using a 2 x 2 matrix. Identify your opportunities and quantify the benefit they bring to your factory. For these same opportunities, working with your Industry 4.0 partner, define whether these opportunities are easy to implement or difficult. Start with those that have the largest benefits and are easy to implement. This approach also helps your employees see the benefits quickly. A few significant quick wins on the shop floor can go a long way to motivating your workforce to embrace change.
Small manufacturers must start to deploy Industry 4.0 to move its business forward. This transformation is a journey, not a destination. These steps will help you get started:
- Select a partner. Consider their competence both technically and in change management.
- Create a map of the digital systems you have in place today.
- Prioritize your opportunities. Engage your employees in this process.
- Start implementation with those opportunities that have the greatest gain and that are the easiest to implement.
- Implement new systems incrementally. Don’t try to do too much at once.
Don’t fall behind your competition. Start your Industry 4.0 journey today. You might just sleep better at night and if done correctly, your business results will improve as well.
About the Author: Mike Ungar is a Certified FocalPoint Business Coach and Trainer. He has 35 years of experience with Michelin in manufacturing and human resources. Mike is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Clemson MBA program.