UK manufacturing is on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to the recent report The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR): A primer for manufacturers, 80% of manufacturers believe 4IR will be a business reality within the next decade. Despite understanding the importance of 4IR to improving productivity, expanding markets, connecting supply chains and streamlining communication, only 11% of manufacturers believe UK manufacturing as an industry is fully prepared for 4IR.
As a manufacturing professional, I have worked with manufacturers of all sizes to craft and implement programmes of continuous improvement. We see that there are generally three stages in the 4IR journey: conception, evolution and revolution.
Here is my advice for how manufacturers can move through these stages efficiently and effectively.
The first step is to understand what 4IR is. A key way of seeing what’s working for others in your industry is to attend networking and learning events. For example, on 26 January 2017, I’m hosting a free webinar for manufacturers moving along their 4IR journey. There will be an opportunity for discussion and asking questions as well as hearing 4IR success stories from real manufacturers. Industry associations, such as EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, often host factory tours, conferences and member connect events that allow for the exchange of ideas and lessons learned.
for a free webinar I'm presenting on 1 March 2017 on how manufacturers can evolve their 4IR journey, complete with practical, real-life examples.
Once companies have realised the potential benefits of 4IR, it’s now time to start planning a strategy. This is typically where my team gets called in. We help businesses analyse their current practices and identify areas to improve and optimise. This work can involve a variety of issues, including
- Potential new revenue stream
- Inefficient processes and communication
- Where 4IR fits in with business goals
- Supply chain connectivity
- Big data opportunities
- New technologies
There’s no one size fits all approach, so working with a consultant that who understands your particular opportunities and challenges is necessary.
Training, not just Tech
Obviously selecting the right technology is an important aspect of 4IR. However, a key and often overlooked initial investment is staff training. From courses on 4IR to leadership and management to productivity, training staff to manage their teams and work according to current best practices will yield results. It’s about nurturing your future leaders who will carry the revolution forward over the next decade and beyond.
“People often think 4IR is about putting robots in the workplace tomorrow. However, it really a series of small evolutionary steps that, when you look back, you realise combined to create a revolution.”
Creating a culture of innovation
Often the best ideas for process or technology improvements come from staff themselves. So how do you harvest and harness those ideas? Through creating a workplace culture that actively encourages and nurtures new ideas and creativity. This also means allowing people to sometimes fail; after all, no great invention was created without a good deal of experimentation and failure along the way.
In the world of 4IR specifically, there may need to be new players around the decision making table. In particular, IT should take on a strategic business planning role (not just a support role).
When people hear revolution, they think of one big change. The spinning jenny can be seen as an important technology in the industrial revolution, but it required lots of people using that technology and combining it with other new processes, other technologies and new training to make it a key part of the industrial revolution.
It does not have mean major investment in one or two major technologies to deliver benefit, less expensive changes can yield big results. In other words, you don’t have to bet your company on one big, expensive change. Instead make a lot of little changes.
Here are just a few examples that I’ve seen of what steps in the revolution can look like:
- Linking a sales product configurator straight through to the ERP system so a customer can design a product with the engineer and it is immediately loaded into the ERP system (cutting out the paperwork and time in the middle)
- Installing very low cost computers (Raspberry Pi) throughout a factory to help better track work flow
- Smart boilers that automatically phone the service engineer before it breaks down
The biggest advice I can give a manufacturer looking at 4IR is to do something. The biggest mistake they can make is to be dazzled in the headlights and not take the first step. The UK is already lagging in terms of global productivity; let’s use rapid adoption of 4IR get us back on track.