Digital transformation is all around us and the implementation of smart homes, Internet of things; artificial intelligence, machine learning, and networked production are all signs of many industries embracing all things digital. While major players are geared up for these challenges (and are often at the forefront), many smaller companies are lagging behind. A science group have offered some advice to help smaller companies adapt to the rapidly changing digital world and for what many are calling ‘Industry 4.0.’
What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is, like many phrases, a label. It is intended to convey how industry first became mechanized (Industry 1.0); then introduced the techniques of mass production (Industry 2.0); and next took on the computer (Industry 3.0). Where Industry 4.0 comes in is with the current trajectory of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. In other words such developments as cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing. Add to this big data analytics, virtual reality and edge computing.
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For industry this means establishing the so-termed “smart factory”. Here cyber-physical systems will monitor physical processes and make decentralized decisions. Via the Internet of Things, systems will communicate and cooperate with each other, as well as and with people in real time.
According to technology writer Jamie Hicks, Industry 4.0 “isn’t a new technology. Nor is it a business discipline. It is in fact a new approach to achieve results that weren’t possible 10 years ago thanks to advancements in technology over the past decade.”
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology study
For some companies this is part and parcel of daily life, for others it represents an unpredictable future. This is where the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology experts step in. the focus of the institute is with German companies, but much of what they say is applicable across nations as well as across industry.
The Institute notes that a survey of Germany’s digital association Bitcom, found that 90 percent of the small and medium-sized companies in the country see digital transformation an opportunity; moreover, 80 percent of the respondents are of the view that companies will fail if they refuse digitization.
This may be so, but it isn’t easy to achieve according to Nicole Stricker of the Institute of Production Science. However, to face the challenge companies can:
First, identify promising applications and break this down into easier-to-handle packages. This involves looking at areas of production and products in a stepwise manner.
Secondly, analyze data processing, company-wide networking of production, and human-machine interaction.
Third, consider the integration of sensors for data acquisition, IT services for data processing.
Fourth, develop new business models.
According to Stricker, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology wants “to help companies access this topic and provide concrete support.” This could include using existing data in new ways, such as taking more note of quality data and linking this back to production in real-time.
The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology approach is just one example of how digital transformation can be approached by small and medium sized enterprises. Other approaches are possible and different firms and institutions are offering digital transformative solutions.