Change is hard. If this pandemic year has taught us anything, it’s how to adapt and adjust our way of thinking and doing business. The same goes for technology. It is always changing. Whether it is the latest upgrade for your smart device or the newest gadget to simplify your life, technology touches every facet of our personal and professional lives. The choices out there can be daunting and sometimes overwhelming, especially if you are a small to medium manufacturer. Do I really need technology to grow my business and thrive? Is technology safe for my company? What about my personnel, how will they be affected? The answer is not the same for everyone, but using these tips below can help guide you to the right solution for yourself and your company:
- One size does not fit all: The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) is the use of technologies to form an interconnected and autonomous manufacturing environment. You do not have to implement all of these technologies at once. First, identify the pain points in your business such as operational inefficiencies, quality issues, or asset reliability. Then, let that business case help you decide the technology to pursue first and the depth of that technology that is needed to solve the issue on hand.
- Start small: A complete overhaul is not necessary and unfeasible in most cases. You do not have to start over and connect your entire production line to the cloud all at once. There are affordable, easy to implement options available. Examples include adding a sensor or two to a machine center to track performance data in real time to better understand missed opportunities, or integrating one standalone machine to the network to facilitate smart decision making. These types of solutions allow you to ease your business into Industry 4.0 and simultaneously use technology to positively impact your business. Adding up a few of these technology implementation wins over time will help build confidence in your team and lead to a long-term Industry 4.0 strategy that becomes an integral part of your core business.
- Don’t be afraid: Implementing technology does not necessarily lead to a reduction in employment. In fact, in many cases it will lead to workforce development. Even though machines are accurate and repeatable, people are still needed to manage the process, analyze the data output, and act on what to do with that data. Also, by adding a technology solution (like a sensor), you can capture that employee’s tribal knowledge and machine data, then create a recipe to automate the process of how to run that machine in the future. This helps create a culture that emphasizes learning, which leads to an increase in team members feeling more comfortable working with technology.
- Data, data, data: If you have a choice, do you want to know when a machine will fail? Most will answer “yes” to this question but are still doing maintenance the old-fashioned way and guessing when it will fail (preventative maintenance). But by using the right technology you can tell exactly when a machine is going to stop working and do the corrective action just before it happens (predictive maintenance). Over time, using a conditioning monitoring device will give you the data to know when a failure will occur, and time to prepare for maintenance issues to avoid a catastrophic problem. This will lead to less unscheduled downtime and increased productivity, which impacts your bottom line and revenue. This is just one example of how a technology solution can help capture data and use it to solve real problems in your business.
- Safety and security: As your organization progresses through implementing technology solutions and leveraging the power of data, there is an inherent risk of cyberthreat that must be carefully managed and mitigated. It is not a matter of if, it is matter of when your data could be compromised. The same principle of starting small and following basic data hygiene such as controlling when and who has access to your data and managing how data moves in your organization would go a long way. If you are planning on doing any work for the Department of Defense, the need to establish and demonstrate your organization’s maturity level on the cybersecurity front is key to your success. Working with professionals who can assess and guide you through each step in Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is paramount as this certification will be a requirement for all vendors in the very near future to be able to be awarded contracts from the Department of Defense.
By keeping these tips in mind, your path to implementing Industry 4.0 solutions can be less intimidating, more manageable, and allow you to leverage technological innovation to grow your competitiveness and gain new business.
If you are a small to medium manufacturer who needs help identifying or implementing technology solutions, contact your GaMEP Region Manager and they can connect you to one of our experts on questions related to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Industry 4.0, automation, and other technology needs that will lead to productivity gains for your company.
By: Raine Hyde, Marketing Strategist, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership