How manufacturers and companies can best take advantage of the opportunities that Industry 4.0 has to offer. Stephen Dyson, Head of Industry 4.0 at the supplier for digital manufacturing services Proto Labs, gives first-hand tips.
Proto Labs machinery - Image: Proto Labs
The euphoria surrounding Industry 4.0 is practically tangible. The so-called fourth industrial revolution is currently bringing on a change, which is opening up new opportunities through the effective use of digital manufacturing, robotics and automation. For many manufacturers, the sober question regarding Industry 4.0 still remains: If digital manufacturing and automation are the future, how can these technologies be introduced in their companies? The answer is given by Stephen Dyson, Head of Industry 4.0 at Proto Labs.
Stephen Dyson, Head of Industry 4.0 at Proto Labs. - Image: Proto Labs
The implementation counts
Up to now, the discussion about Industry 4.0 was more about the goal rather than the way to get there. Web-enabled production processes based on modern automation and robotics provide an unprecedented level of productivity, quality and efficiency, and they pave the way for entirely new business models such as servitization and build-to-order.
The challenge lies in the implementation, i.e. the way from the current state of companies towards a future which is characterised by digital manufacturing and a high degree of automation. This development not only applies to the manufacturing area, but the further corporate environment and beyond that the supply chain. After all, Industry 4.0 is more than just another manufacturing approach; it also signifies a completely new approach to supply chain management.
A paradigm shift
Consider the effects of Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing on traditional manufacturing and business processes. The world of Industry 4.0 knows extremely short lead times, demand-oriented production and customer-specific mass production, and offers manufacturers – regardless of their size – an opportunity to be competitive on a global level.
Automated manufacturing simplifies and accelerates the production and market launch. Image: Proto Labs
That is why the traditional value-added chain – from the factory to wholesalers, from wholesalers to retailers and from retailers to consumers (whereby each stage is linked with a buffer of stocks) – is skilfully bypassed by digital connections.
Customers can order products directly and thereby interact with online tools for product configurations and web-based ERP systems for order acceptance. Manufacturing and processing can occur automatically after receipt of the order.
Final part - Image: Proto Labs
Some manufacturers will dismiss this as hype or science fiction. However, this is at own risk: Industry 4.0 is already beginning to take on concrete shape in the business-to-business sector. Manufacturers combine digital manufacturing technologies with Internet connectivity in order to profoundly transform the art of the possible.
Internet enabled manufacturing
For example, Proto Labs utilises advanced technologies in the fields of 3D printing, CNC processing and injection moulding to manufacture parts within a few days. Consequently, our company is the world’s fastest provider of individually produced prototypes and small-series parts in the field of digital manufacturing. Product designers and engineers all over the world offer the advantage of unprecedented short product launch times.
“Digital manufacturing consists of a series of connections to link customers with business products and production technologies.” - Stephen Dyson, Head of Industry 4.0 at Proto Labs
It is important to emphasise that the strength of this approach is not in the individual components of the product technology we utilise, but in the manner in which digital manufacturing makes these technologies available within a digital end-to-end process that starts with the customers and often ends with the shipment of a component only one day after the order.
Proto Labs computer cluster - Image: Proto Labs
For example, our web-based automated quotation system offers quotations of prices in real time.
These are provided by our in-house software, which translates the digital 3D CAD models into instructions for high-speed production facilities.
Experienced applications engineers are helpful with component-related questions as well as with regard to service and selection of materials. Design analysis occurs within a few hours and not only after days.
All of this is supported by a web-based business model that enables a simple and comfortable usage of our services – no matter whether you are in Birmingham, Bangalore or Brisbane. Security aspect?
Making the leap
It is obvious that such possibilities constitute a completely different paradigm than conventional business models and the traditional value-added chain. For instance, they necessitate investments in integration. Back office systems must be updated and web applications must be developed for customers.
Analysis has a higher priority. Companies usually take the view that the qualification profile of their workforce must change. Traditional production skills lose importance, while qualifications in fields such as digital manufacturing, robotics and automation become increasingly important.
Digital manufacturing at Proto Labs. - Image: Proto Labs
To some, Industry 4.0 is highly reminiscent of the unattended manufacturing of the 1980s, as personnel were to be completely replaced by robots in the course of automation. Of course this never materialised, not because the technology would not be up to the task, but because the underlying business model had not changed. It is different with Industry 4.0. Here the focus is not so much on technology, but on the business advantages which technology can entail.
Benefiting from Industry 4.0
Based on our experience, we can therefore advise you to take advantage of the business advantages which result from the technological advances of Industry 4.0. In a nutshell: Digital manufacturing consists of a series of connections to link customers with business products and production technologies. So the first step could be to establish these connections and acknowledge every new connection as an advance on the way to digital manufacturing in which the goal is Industry 4.0.