Are Industrial Equipment Companies Ready for Industry 4.0?

Like many companies, industrial equipment (IE) manufacturers are either considering or pursuing the digitalization of their operations.

James Robbins, automotive industry and industrial equipment industry North American managing director, Accenture
James Robbins, automotive industry and industrial equipment industry North American managing director, Accenture

Though Industry 4.0 might hold great promise in terms of helping them streamline production, drive innovation and grow, how IE companies apply it will determine their level of success.

Today, manufacturers are operating at a time filled with challenges paralleled by rapid technology change that is driving greater expectations for new and more innovative solutions. Increasing demand for customized and more energy-efficient products, as well as services, is placing greater pressure on IE companies to more quickly fill innovation pipelines, while contending with ever-shorter product lifecycles. Greater use of embedded software also is helping to fuel demand amid global competition that is intensifying.

Increasingly, the shift toward digital manufacturing is being viewed as a key solution to address many of today’s manufacturing challenges. As part of Industry 4.0, for instance, there are software- and hardware-based processes like 3D printing.

Though not yet industrial-grade, 3D printing is poised to help companies better respond to greater demand for customized products and move companies closer to having mass-customization capabilities. Key to more effectively using such technology and others in the industrial revolution, however, will be fully understanding how technology should support the organization’s goals and, perhaps most important, determining how best to apply it as a tool for high performance.

Optimizing technology
Here are some of today’s leading technologies, processes and trends that IE manufacturers can make the most of to improve performance:

Design for analytics. IE manufacturers no longer suffer from a lack of data, but may suffer from not using the right data. How software is designed needs to go beyond basic application functionality to “design in” ways that elicit data-rich answers to specifically answer the company’s key business questions.

Make faster decisions. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, it is more important than ever to match the speed of the organization’s actions to the speed of opportunities. Companies need to pay attention to data velocity—the pace with which data can be gathered, sorted and analyzed—to produce insights that managers can act on quickly to improve opportunities.

Create seamless collaboration. It is time to reimagine the way employees work. The rise of social networking and social sites is creating a new level of collaborative behavior. Companies need to adapt these social strategies to the workplace by integrating social channel technologies into their business processes as a way to enhance productivity.

Increase cyber defense. Information technology (IT) attacks are widening. To protect data and other critical information, organizations will do well to increase their cyber defenses. This should include undertaking regular actions like deploying reflex-like responses to security threats in their midst and leveraging analytics to create second lines of defense around data and services. Companies also should be aware of new security advances to be prepared for future attacks.

Put the cloud to work. Though the cloud is no longer an emerging technology, it can have a transformational impact across a business. With the cloud, IE manufacturers have the opportunity to create hybrid capabilities that combine the best of all the cloud’s elements, mixing on-premise and off-premise IT and integrating the cloud with legacy systems and traditional software. Establishing such a robust platform can help them launch new products, get to market faster, and respond more flexibly.

The future
These technology advances and those that have the potential to follow, like 3D printing industrial applications, are signaling that the fourth industrial revolution is well on its way to becoming a reality. For industrial equipment manufacturers, it is no longer a question of if, but how they will take advantage of it. Those that do will greatly strengthen their ability to achieve high performance.

>> James Robbins, james.a.robbins@accenture.com, is automotive industry and industrial equipment industry North American managing director for Accenture (www.accenture.com).

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