Strategies and considerations for successful Industry 4.0 implementation

Embracing Industry 4.0 opens a multitude of exciting opportunities for organizations; however, to ensure optimal outcomes, thorough planning and thoughtful consideration are paramount.

By Alan Raveling and Dan Riley July 12, 2023
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles


Learning Objectives

  • Learn how narrowing the scope of early Industry 4.0 implementations can improve outcomes.
  • Learn how organizational factors influence the success of Industry 4.0 initiatives.
  • Learn how to ensure the appropriate talent is available for a successful Industry 4.0 implementation.

Industry 4.0 insights

  • When evaluating any potential Industry 4.0 project, it is important to understand what returns the investment will yield and how soon they should be expected.
  • In developing an Industry 4.0 strategy, overcoming organizational challenges is just as crucial as overcoming technical hurdles.
  • The capability of personnel involved within an Industry 4.0 project factors more heavily on its success than the technology.

The ideas and possibilities surrounding “Industry 4.0” are like a child going to a buffet for the first time. There are so many appetizing options and items it is too easy to cave to the temptation to load one of everything onto the plate. All too soon, we learn our eyes are larger than our stomachs and not everything tastes as good as we hoped. Without careful planning and consideration, the first trip through Industry 4.0 may leave a similarly bad taste. Establishing a comprehensive understanding of investment, implementation and internal processes for an Industry 4.0 project helps ensure the smartest choices are made with the best results obtained.

Four ways to evaluate potential Industry 4.0 projects

When evaluating any potential project, it is important to understand what returns the investment will yield and how soon they should be expected.

Does the organization want to tackle the challenge with the highest return? Is the organization confident about what the challenge is? Documenting all the possible use cases, production challenges and other organizational technology issues provides transparency to the entire team on the current state of operations.

  1. For each potential project, capture the objectives such as reduced unplanned downtime, lower reject rate or higher operational efficiency, and begin to assign values for investment and perceived return.

  2. Review the list and discuss if there are any dependencies that would enable other projects to come online more quickly if executed later within a timeline. Obtain understanding from management or executive teams on specific “hot button” items that should be pulled forward.

  3. After the list has been prioritized, work through a realistic, not idealistic, timeframe of when projects would begin and when they would enter an operational status. From this point, typical project management processes would kick in and proceed as usual.

  4. If the organization is uncertain of which projects to start on, select a smaller or relatively self-contained project that could be executed quickly.

This approach provides transparency to the entire team and offers a holistic view of the current state of operations in the same way surveying the buffet options gives a comprehensive understanding of potential choices.

Three insights for phased momentum building

While assisting clients with Industry 4.0 implementations has provided several notable insights. For instance, in a value-added agriculture context, a client engaged a consulting firm to conduct assessments across multiple plants and rank use cases based on readiness and business impact factors.

However, this ranking needed to account for the unique circumstances of each site, where budgets had to be justified. To address this, Interstates worked with the sites to develop customized “Good, better, best” outcome ranges, aligning them with each site’s operating costs and revenues for each project. Our analysis effectively identified projects with the highest return on investment (ROI) and determined optimal project delivery timelines for each site.

Emphasizing the importance of quick wins, rapid learning and swift execution, this approach garnered support within the organization while revealing resource gaps and unforeseen roadblocks that could have caused significant delays or costs in large-scale projects.

From this experience, a three-step process was created to aid in building momentum for Industry 4.0 projects:

  1. A proof-of-concept determines if the minimal scope is functionally possible. These are very small, quick projects to keep risk low.

  2. Pilot project helps determine if the scope is cost-effective and has expected business impact. These are small projects that help demonstrate business value.

  3. Rollout and scale initiatives to capture as much value as possible. These are true initiatives.

Overcoming organizational challenges for Industry 4.0 projects

In developing an Industry 4.0 strategy, overcoming organizational challenges is just as crucial as overcoming technical hurdles. The concepts and values represented by Industry 4.0 may be difficult to understand or visualize. Individuals with passion and strong examples to showcase its possibilities are crucial to driving the culture of data-driven performance and action necessary for successful adoption.

New initiatives come with setbacks and pockets of resistance are bound to spring up as a result. Being prepared to address them should be part of a well-constructed plan. Every project goes through the change curve of denial, frustration, anger, experimentation and acceptance. When clients face these obstacles, it’s effective to support them by first working on projects in an agile process. It’s good to meet with the client and ensure the right scope is being addressed and also share progress with stakeholders throughout the organization.

It’s also good to have a multi-discipline support team that helps clients through post-project questions, issues and support. Organizations that foster a culture of innovation and embrace the willingness to try new things will find it considerably easier to incorporate technology initiatives like Industry 4.0.

Organizations still in the early stages of cultivating such a mindset may face greater challenges in adopting these transformative technologies.

Personnel considerations for Industry 4.0 projects

Just as the success of the buffet relies on the skill and expertise of the chefs, the capability of personnel involved within an Industry 4.0 project factors more heavily on its success than the technology. In the planning phases, organizations should determine if resources such as data analysts, data scientists or other types of programmers are already on staff and can be utilized for these projects or if new resources will be required.

If looking at the prospect of new resources, it also is necessary to consider whether they will be new employees, project-based contractors or consultants or a hybrid of multiple resource types. Finding qualified talent is already challenging for many companies, but finding people who check all the requirements for a new field such as Industry 4.0 is doubly so.

Identifying individuals within the organization who possess genuine interest can present excellent opportunities to send them for additional education or training on the concepts and technologies associated with these initiatives.

In the grand feast of Industry 4.0, there are many choices to make when putting together a strategy. Projects, prerequisites, priorities, personnel and other considerations are all topics that can take considerable time to process to obtain alignment. It would be best to start small, demonstrate the benefit of these technologies and understand the obstacles which arise and how to work through them.

Starting with a large or complex project means there’s a greater chance of missing a deadline, underdelivering on project goals, or investing in something that never makes it to production. If the prospect of where to embark seems overwhelming, a trusted partner can serve as a guiding compass, steering companies in the right direction and leveraging their experience to navigate common pitfalls.

Industry 4.0 success is best achieved through a well-orchestrated blend of careful planning, gradual implementation and the support of seasoned collaborators.

Alan Raveling, OT architect; Dan Riley, analytics manager, both with Interstates, a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by David Miller, Content Manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: Industry 4.0, IIoT


Can you identify an opportunity for a targeted Industry 4.0 implementation?

Author Bio: Alan Raveling, OT architect; Dan Riley, analytics manager, both with Interstates