Hyperconnectivity. The Internet of Things. Big data. Robotics. Cloud computing. Machine learning. Artificial intelligence. The borderless enterprise. Put it all together, and you’ve got one of the most exciting times in the history of manufacturing—Industry 4.0.
Like the first, second, and third Industrial Revolutions before it, Industry 4.0 offers the manufacturing industry enormous potential. As Harold Stark points out in his Forbes article titled “Intel, IBM and Microsoft Get Candid About Industry 4.0,” some of the world’s leading tech companies are providing the hard- and software needed for the digital infrastructures that make so-called “smart factories” possible. When new technologies are properly implemented in this manner, they combine to reduce the risk for human labor, improve the consistency of the product, and create a more efficient, responsive supply chain.
Yet surprisingly, the U.S. manufacturing industry is slow to adopt these innovations. In fact, according to a 2016 Boston Consulting Group report titled “Sprinting to Value in Industry 4.0,” while most manufacturers state they’re focusing on implementing Industry 4.0, many have only done so for one or two technologies. However, to obtain the full value of Industry 4.0, these elements need to be integrated into a comprehensive infrastructure that drives efficiencies throughout the supply chain.
So why is the manufacturing industry so reluctant to take advantage of Industry 4.0?
There are two reasons. First, the transformation into a smart factory has considerable consequences for a company’s culture. Everything will change, from processes and equipment to the types of talent needed and the role of humans in the production process. It’s understandable, therefore, that before manufacturers commit to this transformation, they want to know precisely what they need to change to reap the most benefits. In addition, the changes will have a significant impact on the people already in the company. That’s why employers need the right change management plan and professionals in place to coordinate the transformation and make it a success.
The second reason is the ongoing lack of high end tech talent. Granted, there’s already a lack of skilled talent for areas such as additive manufacturing, robotics, and machine learning. However, when you consider the complexity of the smart factory with all its elements and features, it becomes clear that the line between manufacturing and high tech is becoming increasingly blurred. Most importantly, manufacturers will need highly skilled talent to build, implement, and manage their digital infrastructures—and talent of that caliber are few and far between.
Fortunately, experienced workforce companies can offer support where it’s most needed. They can provide specialized change management teams to assist with the transformation to a smart factory. Plus, they know where to look for the top tech talent that’s so critical to a smart factory’s success—even if that involves attracting top talent from other industries like aerospace or high tech.
Industry 4.0 is already here, and the sooner manufacturers can implement it, the better for their competitive positioning. With the right support and resources, they can successfully undergo the necessary transformation and concentrate on the increasing opportunities these new technologies offer.