Pragmatism Pervades Smart Factory Floor

The smart factory is becoming a reality, but the transition to Industry 4.0 is a pragmatic one.

Image courtesy: Cap Gemini

Image courtesy: Cap Gemini

A recent report from Capgemini found that 76% of manufacturers either have a smart factory initiative that is ongoing or are working on formulating it, while more than half of manufacturers have aligned $100 million or more towards smart factories. However, only 14% of companies are satisfied with their level of smart factory success.

Image courtesy: Cap Gemini

Image courtesy: Cap Gemini

In a telephone interview with EBN Online, Debbie Krupitzer, Internet of Things (IoT) practice lead for Capgemini North America, said the concept of “digital manufacturing” is getting a lot of traction. “The conversation is getting more elevated.” However, she said, there is a culture clash as operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) converge. While IT is fairly robust and mature, “OT has been a little insular. It hasn’t really evolved for the last few years,” she added.

Debbie Krupitzer

Debbie Krupitzer

Each plant tends to have its own systems and applications in place. “They struggle to connect the dots,” said Krupitzer. “Some plants are still paper-based.” Many are still reactive rather than predictive with maintenance staff waiting for things to break, rather than predicting a failure and fixing it before it happens, she said. “We're having to reeducate them.”

Krupitzer spends a great deal of time in the field and said the best starting point is focusing on things that could be automated, rather than leading with IoT. “We have to be very pragmatic about it, especially with this industry.”  And while technology and automation maturity is still low in manufacturing, “they are getting it,” she said, but they’re looking for tangible outcomes that match their “save money, make money” frame of mind.

Courtesy: Cap Gemini

Courtesy: Cap Gemini

“They don't buy into the buzzwords,” Krupitzer added, so her focus is looking the process, people and technology in the plant. Rather than hypothesizing as to what’s happening across the factory floor, a complete walk through starting from materials intake to product shipping is essential. She said IoT only enters the picture when gaps have been identified. “It's not the starting point, it's the finishing point.”

She said IoT is gathering steam not only because of increased interest in embracing Industry 4.0, but also because the price points are down for IoT components such as sensors and networking. The conversation has shifted over the past couple of years beyond concepts such as Lean Six Sigma to a focus on becoming more connected.

One surprise from survey, said Krupitzer, was how far behind China is on the smart factory maturity curve compared to North America, which began outsourcing its manufacturing to that country about 20 years ago. She speculates those companies still manufacturing in the U.S. are looking any way they can to realize operational savings.

The Capgemini survey also identified some disappointment among respondents who have seen IT people come in to the manufacturing space to apply robotics and sensors because it's cool, rather than being guided by a business case. “That’s where you’re finding the frustration,” said Krupitzer. “The coolness factor just doesn't resonate at the plant level. Plants don’t want disruption. They want consistency. Plants want to be reliable so they are looking at things that are proven.” However, she said, if you can demonstrate that digitization or IoT can save them money, “they'll do it.”

Being able to respond more quickly to customer feedback is also a driver for the smart factory, particularly as social media can rapidly make or break a brand and impact product sales, said Krupitzer. “You see the industry reacting to this.”

However, despite growing enthusiasm for the smart factory, Krupitzer still has to deal with the “shiny shoe syndrome” as people at the plant level worry that consultants are focused on replacing them with robots. But automation is not the end of the labor, she said. The work is simply shifting, and in North America, it has to because of an aging workforce. “We have to automate. The millennials being hired want state of the art technology,” Kruptizer said. “They want dashboards.”

More value-add jobs are coming into plants that involve analytics and data sciences. “It's just a shift in what the tasks are going to be and matches what millennials want to do,” Kruptizer said. 

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