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Piecing together the Industry 4.0 jigsaw

18 May 2020

Many food and beverage manufacturers may have already unwittingly embraced Industry 4.0 despite wearying of the hype. The problem is not Industry 4.0 per se, but more a problem of how it is framed, according to Jason Chester

Industry 4.0 is simply a delineator of evolution. We like to describe evolutionary timelines with delineators that describe different epochs. Industry 4.0 is not an objective, but an evolutionary outcome. As new technologies, tools and techniques emerge and begin to change how manufacturing is performed, industries evolve in the same way they have always done. It is important not to get hung up on the delineator of evolution, but instead concentrate on how business needs can be most effectively addressed.

The markets that food and beverage manufacturers serve are also evolving as are the environments that they operate in and internally within their own organisations. Those arrows of evolutionary time tend to point towards the need for increasing productivity, output and quality, while at the same time lowering costs, production latency and risk.

A typical scenario
To use the scenario of a typical food manufacturer: Due to the increasingly tough market in which it operates the company decides to embark on a shop floor modernisation project. The principle driver is the need to significantly reduce their operating costs, improve productivity and yield and to reduce waste. This will enable it to be more price competitive while retaining similar margins.  

Due to volatility in demand, the company needs to increase its operational flexibility by being able to reduce inventory, provide a wider selection of product variants and move to shorter volume production runs. Finally, it must also improve the quality and consistency of its product to ensure continued consumer support.

While these challenges have always been present in some form, the need for greater improvement is becoming more urgent. Like many, this company will have reached a proverbial glass ceiling where further improvements and gains become harder to achieve, with diminishing returns. Now, however, it might have a higher proportion of tech-savvy millennials working on the shop floor, so a decision is made to move away from its traditional and mostly manual processes and embark on a digital transformation project.  

After an intensive discovery phase, the company should have a much clearer understanding of its end-to-end manufacturing and packaging processes. It will also understand all of the causal elements that have a direct impact on, or indirect influence on its primary objectives, including what is critical to quality, critical to cost and critical to productivity.  

The next step is to embark on a project to be able to digitally monitor and capture data from all of these sources. This is a varied project that includes capturing data from existing PLC devices, installing new measurement devices and IIoT sensors, upgrading lab equipment and even providing the means for operators to digitally record information from manually performed inspections.  

In order to ensure that data from these wide-ranging sources can flow freely and reliably, a decision could be made to upgrade its networks and include modern 5G networking capabilities and provide operators with handheld devices such as tablets. These efforts would be fruitless unless the company has the means to turn that data in to real-time actionable intelligence and make it available to a wide range of users – from line side operators to senior supply-chain executives. So, it deploys an Enterprise Quality Intelligence solution, but does not want to be burdened with installing, maintaining and constantly upgrading yet another complex enterprise application. Instead, it makes a decision to subscribe to a Software-as-a-Service solution that takes all of that burden away from the IT team.

On project completion, the company will soon recognise the significant gains made by the simple fact that everyone now has real-time access to reliable and actionable intelligence, and the business objectives will have been achieved. 

This manufacturer will have put many of the important pieces of the jigsaw together and moved them towards a digital manufacturing future where data, information and intelligence has become the central pillar of its manufacturing operations. While this may be a generalised and fictitious story, it is not dissimilar to scenarios that are unfolding on a daily basis. 

Jason Chester is director of Global Channel Programs at InfinityQS.

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