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Are you ready to join the robotic revolution?

07 January 2019

The transition to Industry 4.0 promises to hypercharge manufacturing capabilities and it is essential that manufacturers respond to this transition and start investing in the change, says Scott Fawcett, divisional managing director at Essentra Components. 

With Industry 4.0 now in full swing, the pressure is on for manufacturers to accelerate the digital transformation of their own operations and the increasing role of robotics at each stage of the manufacturing process is becoming apparent. 

The integration of digitisation and data exchange into the manufacturing process has led to the rapid growth of what is known as smart factories. These facilities, which incorporate smart planning, smart machines and smart data, are completely changing traditional manufacturing processes.
In a smart factory it is possible to collect and analyse data with a more streamlined approach, which, in turn, will enable them to make more informed decisions on inventory, labour planning, purchasing and production. The manufacturing industry is built upon consistency; it is essential that manufacturers are producing reliable identical parts time and time again.

Proactivity is key
According to a report by Accenture – Winning with the Industrial Internet of Things –  the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is said to add  12.25 trillion euro to the global economy by 2030. It predicts that increased automation will result in machines that can order their own replacement parts or send out automated email alerts to technicians to report issues, prior to a crisis. The important thing here is proactivity; automated machines will be able to flag any issues ahead of time instead of waiting to react once the issue has occurred. This will save time and money, leading to a reductions in cost per unit.

Incorporating robotics will change and improve the manufacturing processes themselves and, as a by-product of digitising these capabilities, it is possible to capture previously unattainable performance data and analytics. Data collection is a key benefit of this Industry 4.0 transition. With new systems in place, an entire factory can report on and provide data relating to performance, inventory and efficiency. On top of this, manufacturers can receive real-time projections and identify any issues in their processes. Ultimately, the data collected can enhance and improve manufacturing processes, as well as increasing visibility and availability of information amongst employees. 

Working in tandem
Contrary to popular belief, the rise in robotics will not make factory workers obsolete. Instead, they will protect workers from repetitive and dangerous tasks allowing the human workforce to focus on other value adding tasks. It is important for manufacturers to embrace these changes and not feel threatened by the impact this could have on the roles of their employees. Instead, it should be viewed as a collaboration, the bringing together of human expertise and technological efficiencies to create a hybrid workforce.

While robots will respond efficiently and effectively to prescribed events, the technology typically cannot handle unexpected situations. This element of unpredictability means there will always be a role for humans to work alongside robots and this provides employers with an opportunity to upskill their workforce. For employees to be on-board with this change, employers must empower them to become ‘change champions’ on the Industry 4.0 journey. 

Ultimately, manufacturers wanting to compete on a global scale need to align with the principles of Industry 4.0 through digitisation, automation and data collection. Manufacturers failing to do this risk being left behind. 

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