Scaling Industry 4.0 transformation for the future

Industry 4.0 initiatives are evolving, but many companies are still struggling to take the next step forward and change not only on a technological level, but a cultural one, too.

By Chris Vavra May 17, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Industry 4.0 insights

  • Industry 4.0 initiatives are evolving and are moving beyond pilot projects and moving to a larger scale, but adoption remains a challenge.
  • Some of the adoption challenges are technological and making use of everything efficiently, but there are cultural and organizational challenges that cannot be overlooked.

The benefits of Industry 4.0 transformation are evident and its future is promising, but scaling can be a challenge. In a panel discussion for “Scale Industry 4.0 Transformation through 2030,” at LiveWorx 2023 in Boston, three thought leaders shared their successes and perspectives on the challenges they face, the state of the industry and what Industry 4.0 means for the future of manufacturing.

State of Industry 4.0 and manufacturer challenges

When asked about where things stand with Industry 4.0, David Brousell, co-founder, VP and executive director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council, chuckled and said, “It’s definitely in a state. I hesitate to say we’re between a rock and a hard place. We’ve been at it a long time trying to digitize manufacturing operations. We try to plot this and quantify and think about it in a digital maturity curve. With 1 being the worst and 10 being really strong, most manufacturers are in a 4-5-6 range. This means they’ve made considerable progress on the pilot- and single-project level. But now they’re trying to move up the mountain and that gets harder.”

Brousell said those challenges are not only technological, but there are organizational and cultural issues to factor in, as well.

“Inculcating that technology into an organization and making it work across multiple levels is really hard work. Cultural, process and organizational issues have to be addressed by an enlightened management.”

While it’s hard work, Brousell said the promise toward 2030 is immense, and companies can improve the jobs manufacturers currently have.

“If we make things more efficient and get better at using data effectively, we will be able to reinvent ourselves as manufacturers for the rest of the 21st century,” he said.

Left to right: David Brousell, co-founder, VP and executive director, Manufacturing Leadership Council, NAM; Judy Dumont, SVP, digital thread services, PTC; Billy Ledbetter, director, IT - digital productivity, Eaton. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Left to right: David Brousell, co-founder, VP and executive director, Manufacturing Leadership Council, NAM; Judy Dumont, SVP, digital thread services, PTC; Billy Ledbetter, director, IT – digital productivity, Eaton. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Three ways to overcome Industry 4.0 challenges

Overcoming the challenges, according to Billy Ledbetter, director of IT – digital productivity, Eaton, comes down to three things.

First, companies need to be around the technology platform and learn from it and the customer. Ledbetter said companies need to be open on their journeys and find places where they can improve.

Second is governance. He described a three-tier system of Industry 4.0 experts, executive council and operational council working together toward finding common ground and driving changes and creating a standardized platform that can drive efficiency.

The third, and most important, is business value. “You need to address not only real-time efficient needs, but you have to have mid and long-range goals and then tie it back to key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to ask did we achieve, and, if not, how do we adjust?”

Brousell agreed. “Any Industry 4.0 initiative project has to be in service of the business and not the other way around.”

Developing change-management policies

When it comes to encouraging change on a cultural level with adopting Industry 4.0, Judy Dumont, SVP, digital thread services at PTC, said, “Once you get the technology and the data and the governance, you need to think about people at all levels and involve them. You want to make sure the workers and middle managers understand what’s in it for them. Tell them it’s about driving efficiency and have a sponsor who will explain why it’s beneficial.”

She said if they don’t understand the benefits for their jobs in the short- and long-term, there is a good chance they will resist because they will come away with the impression these changes will take their jobs.

“It’s all about communication, communication, communication. You can’t skip it,” she said. “Pay attention to the people, because it matters.”

Brousell said the Industry 4.0 journey is a long and arduous one, and the most important aspect to success is stamina.

“It’s not a question of talent or skill, necessarily, or even deep vision, though you have to have that. You’ve got to be able to change the organization, change people and see it through and endure failure along the way because it’s going to happen,” Brousell said. “And understand that it’s not just you. It’s the U.S. manufacturing industry that needs to evolve. We have to get good at the digital model because there’s a lot of competition worldwide, and it’s gonna get more intense.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.