How Can Industry 4.0 Help Manufacturers During COVID-19?

Last year, an article on Forbes discussed how businesses are reshaping their processes to integrate digital transformation due to the pandemic. Technologies involved in Industry 4.0 such as Augmented Reality, IoT, and machine learning are now deemed “essential” for business strategy.

A 2020 MPI Study revealed that 83% of manufacturing leaders see Industry 4.0 as “extremely or very important”, and 56% believe that Industry 4.0 will have a “significant impact” in the next five years. However, some organisations are wary of change due to scepticism, lack of skills, or financial complications. Despite this, COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for investment.

With a focus on the “smart factory”, Industry 4.0 started over a decade ago. As the cost of sensor technology has decreased, adoption has increased. Martin Barkman, SVP and Global Head of Solution Management for Digital Supply Chain at SAP, is quoted to have said that Industry 4.0 has expanded from the factory and into the entire supply chain.

The four pillars of Industry 4.0 are detailed in the article:

  • Intelligent Products: Allows for last-minute engineering changes. This enables more flexibility in catering to changing customer requirements during production. Constant communication throughout the process improves design, reduces costs, and increases customer satisfaction.
  • Intelligent Assets: Allows for capturing and leveraging data. Digital twins help to analyse, monitor, optimise, and maintain physical assets. It creates balance between availability, asset health, and profitability. These intelligent assets are moving from responsive to predictive, which prevents failing machinery, in turn leading to reduced costs and repairs.
  • Intelligent Factories: Digital supply chain capabilities and greater connectivity increases shop floor visibility, agility of operations, and helps to identify process bottlenecks. Strict production lines are then transformed into flexible manufacturing cells.
  • Empowered People: Empowering employees is key to long-term success. Despite increased automation, new operations and tasks will be created that require human decisions. Training individuals is vital.

The article concludes by recognising the pandemic as a disruptive function for evolution and change within the manufacturing industry. Businesses who digitise their processes and integrate Industry 4.0 techniques are in the best position currently, and will be post-COVID as well.

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