The digitisation of manufacturing processes to get a more customer-focused approach, to master product variety, increase responsiveness, improve quality and efficiency.
Why consider it?
Driven by the empowering role of ICT, smart products and sensorised production systems, Industry 4.0 technologies affect the way goods are manufactured and enable the manufacturing sector to gain a sustainable competitive edge.
Industry 4.0, often referred to as digitising manufacturing, combines production methods with state-of-the-art information and communication technologies. The technological foundation is provided by intelligent, digitally networked systems enabling largely self-managing production processes. Within Industry 4.0, people, machines, equipment, logistics systems and products communicate and cooperate with each other directly. Production and logistics processes are integrated intelligently across company boundaries to make manufacturing more efficient and flexible.
Managing the production challenges arising from a high-mix/low-volume environment is considered to be the core competency for production companies. Current production systems are ill-suited to meet these new challenges. They need to become more flexible, adaptable and responsive to keep small series affordable, guarantee top quality from the first product and limit downtime.
What does it involve?
To successfully engage in digitising manufacturing and unlock its potential, companies need to overcome various challenges and master new skills and capabilities:
- Managing increased complexity: Shifting from large series to small series or even unique products will generate more complexity for companies. This complexity can be seen in the product development and engineering process, front office, production, and so on. Companies need digital tools to manage this complexity.
- Enabling a fast response: Companies that target (ultra-)short lead times need to rethink their processes, both in terms of the front end (fast responses to customer demands) and production (short production lead times). This requires organisational changes, extensively supported by digital tools.
- Assisting operators with their tasks: The increasing complexity, shift towards unique products (small series) and demand for ultra-short lead times increases operators' cognitive load. Digital support tools are needed to facilitate their tasks, with the main goal being to provide operators with correct, up-to-date and 'operator-tailored' information at the right time, and gather input from operators so as to facilitate new developments and production processes.
- Enabling first time right production: Companies that produce (small series) of unique highly-personalised products need to ensure that the products they make are fault-free. The product development and production processes both need to be adapted to enable first-time-right production.
- Making the shop floor transparent: In an interconnected production environment (Industry 4.0), available information/data will be used to optimise the various processes (e.g. planning, logistics). This requires an accurate (real or near-time) overview of the shop floor status. Making the shop floor transparent is an important first step.
- Creating a production network: Manufacturing is becoming more complex and is spread across various (global) factories and dynamic supply chains. Linking the different factories (and supply chains) presents certain challenges when digital technologies play a key role.