Why Having the Right Data is Key to Achieving Industry 4.0

From reducing errors to predicting trends, big data's role in Industry 4.0 is integral, and quite simply, non-negotiable.

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We’ve heard about Industry 4.0 for some time but in recent years, the technology has become more affordable and effective enough to make it a reality for more companies. There’s an increasingly clear ROI from technology spending, clearing a hurdle that in the past has held back many manufacturers from committing to a digital transformation.

Data and analytics are key for a more efficient, resilient, and sustainable future in manufacturing. But despite high ambitions, many manufacturers struggle to capture satisfactory value from data and analytics in manufacturing. In order to be more successful in data capture, manufacturers need to adopt technology that can make data standardized and available in one location, empowering manufacturing leaders, plant managers, process and data engineers and operators, by allowing them to explore their manufacturing and supply chain data within the context of their business.

How the manufacturing industry benefits from data and Industry 4.0

According to a study from 2018, 88% of innovative manufacturers have started their digital transformation. Some have even claimed to already have finished it. And so far, this has proven to be a worthwhile investment. Companies with more than half of their revenues invested in digital ecosystems saw a 32% increase in revenue growth and a 27% higher profit margin. Data's role in manufacturing, as with most industries, all comes down to reducing costs and increasing profits. Look at artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies as examples of disruptive technology. Businesses can automate their manufacturing processes and continue in distributing products, even amid a global health crisis. Artificial intelligence (AI) can also assist in predicting market demand based on historical information, current events and customer preferences, all of which inform the companies' sourcing practices. Manufacturing companies can use the wealth of data they have to improve operational efficiency. They can identify and eliminate bottlenecks, detect human errors and implement predictive maintenance to avoid downtimes and improve the functionality and longevity of machines. Data also comes into play in the training of employees, reliable documentation and customer service. Finally, businesses that embrace the use of data also make way for more interoperability and traceability in their systems. Legacy systems in industries as old as the manufacturing business are often outdated and unable to share data with newer systems. But, by adopting new data management and storage software, companies will have a much easier time-sharing data with the different levels of the manufacturing process — from the machine and factory level up to the corporate level.

It's clear that with the proper data management techniques, manufacturing companies can reap plenty of benefits. However, the sheer number of new tools that have become available to the industry can be overwhelming. Even more overwhelming is the prospect of having to learn how to operate each of these new technologies. In this regard, it's worth drafting a plan for your company's digital transformation. When it comes to adapting or even overhauling a business model, it's important to take it one step at a time. This ensures that the business transitions smoothly. In this day and age, every manufacturing company must also have qualified data analysts in their employ. Careers in data analytics have continued to expand at an astronomical pace, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating a 33% growth between 2016-2026. From finance to manufacturing, there’s a demand for data analysts who can pinpoint patterns and extrapolate valuable insights that any organization can use to expedite internal operations. Their expertise can help in expediting the business's digital transformation and educating the workforce, particularly in an industry like manufacturing which is built on legacy systems. Educating the workforce is of particular note in the industry. According to a survey by TrendMicro, most manufacturers still use outdated systems to forward business operations. A majority make use of Windows XP, which was released in 2001 and is no longer supported. Given that the workforce is so accustomed to these old systems, it's all the more necessary to have an expert guiding them through such a leap in technological standards.

The very foundation of manufacturing is continuous improvement and digital technologies do not displace that foundation—they build on it. One of the big benefits of Industry 4.0 is that it gives your organization the right information and helps you to automate your continuous improvement process. From reducing errors to predicting trends, big data's role in Industry 4.0 is integral, and quite simply, non-negotiable. With the right data strategies, manufacturing can become even more intelligent, efficient, and interconnected.