The System Integrator’s Role in Industry 4.0

April 23, 2018
Moving beyond the hype and buzzwords, an integrator brings knowledge of many different products and industrial sectors to help get the most value from your digital transformation.

Given that I am in charge of marketing and communications for a system integrator, it might seem trivial and obvious that I would want to write about why the manufacturing world needs system integrators.

I have been working in this sector for about a year and a half. Since my first day on the job, I’ve been bombarded with terms like Industry 4.0, super and hyper-amortization, Factory 4.0, virtual factory and more. At first, it seemed easy to deal with communications in this area: It’s a hot topic, everyone’s talking about it, it’s in fashion and—a non-trivial matter—there’s government funding for it. Someone might say: “Fantastic, the state is already marketing for you; at least half of the work is already done.”

But things are not really that simple.

The situation brings to mind a relevant example of something that I experienced through work in my recent past, in the training sector. A few years ago, many Italian regions had allocated funds for continuous training, with the aim of enabling companies, workers and job seekers to access training courses for professional qualification. There were many dedicated initiatives from the universities, business schools and other educational institutions—anyone who could gain some business from it. Terms such as “master’s” or “higher education courses” were used, not always appropriately. What differentiated a real master’s course from a fake one? How might a potential student make a choice about which course to pursue—a course that might or might not improve the student’s personal or professional capabilities?

I feel like I am living through a similar situation with Industry 4.0, albeit now in an industrial manufacturing context. Workers and job seekers face a continuous need to educate and train themselves to be competitive and to increase the value of their activities. And companies must adopt the new technologies in order to be prepared to face the inevitable changes in the market—or maybe even lead the way. This is what Industry 4.0 talks about: the digital transformation of the factory through the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality, predictive analytics, control, Big Data and much more.

But to achieve this, it is not enough just to have the funding. It is not enough to have someone—no matter how good they might be—who installs some software for you and you’re all set. The same was true with the training: It was not enough to define a class as “master” and to include some typical classroom modules to give it value. It becomes immediately apparent that you have wasted your money and time because the value, in the end, is not there.

We are talking, instead, about corporate reorganization—involvement at all levels of the enterprise, from production to management. We are talking about new approaches, the evolution of the factory and the way we work inside the company.

In the middle of the sea change of Industry 4.0 and all those who feel entitled to talk about it, how can they orientate those forced to make the choices required? What criteria do they use to choose the most authoritative and competent sources of help? It is exactly at this stage that the system integrator comes in. The mission of the system integrator is to guarantee the success of digital transformation through knowledge of the processes, the production and (non-trivial) the most suitable technology for each specific case.

As system integrators, we cannot just surf the wave of the moment—our contribution goes far beyond current trends and funding. It is the culture of innovation, the knowledge of various cases throughout different sectors, and the awareness of reliability that make us authoritative. We are not here this year and gone the next; this is what we have always done and will continue to do.

It is good to talk about Industry 4.0; essential to find the right path. But just as was the case with the training, it is essential to take the road of value, with a project and a very specific goal.

Martina Vaccaro is marketing manager at Autoware, a certified Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) member based in Vicenza, Italy. For more information, visit the Autoware profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.