Industry 4.0: The next agent of change in your SME

The business world is in constant evolution. Consider the manufacturing industry, which is now undergoing its fourth revolution with the arrival of version 4.0. What does it entail? What could it do for your business? Here’s an overview of this transformation and the challenges it brings.

Industry 4.0 is characterized by the intelligent automation of operations. It’s a digital transformation that is disrupting the manufacturing sector, where any aspect of operations can be subject to change: systems and processes, management methods, the business model or the role and qualifications of its workforce.

This revolution is based in digital technologies—particularly the Internet, cloud computing, wireless sensors, big data analytics and other specialized applications—to make the production of products more efficient. As the leader of an SME, do you have a plan for steering your company through this transition and towards the factory of the future? It could provide you with many operational advantages.

The advantages of Industry 4.0

  • Greater efficiency

The technology that supports Industry 4.0 monitors all data related to production in real time, allowing managers to make more informed decisions. These data alert you when the machines need maintenance or indicate any imminent breakdowns. Monitors that can immediately alert employees enable instant responses. Eliminating unforeseen shutdowns optimizes productivity, allowing your workers to function according to the established schedule.

  • Reduced operational costs

Smart factories offer continuous communication between the various tools and work stations integrated into supply and production chains. Because the evolution of your operations can be monitored in real time, you can expect to earn cost savings. For example, the preventative maintenance of machinery will avoid costly repairs later. Plus the increased automation of your activities will lighten the workload for your employees.

  • Improved product quality

Your customers love your products, but can you make them even better? Control points installed at every step of your production process gauge progress towards the finished product. This will reveal the factors that affect the quality of your products (ambient temperature, employees involved, etc.). Monitoring every moment during production will allow you to perfect your product and conform more closely with your customers’ requirements.

Challenges to watch out for

  • Access to capital

According to a report by Quebec’s Ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, provincial SMEs in manufacturing need to invest between 7 and 9 percent of their revenue in integrating digital technologies. Nationally, companies will need to invest over $250,000 on average.

Given the sizeable amount of capital required, there’s no room for improvisation. Make sure your technological plan is integrated into your overall strategic plan. Also, if you plan to finance the transformation out of your working capital, it might be helpful to get in touch with your bank manager.

  • Development of new skills

Data security, the creation of user interfaces, software development and data science are amongst the most sought-after skills in Industry 4.0. Experts in this sector are few and far between! As a result, the challenge for SMEs lies in training employees internally and recruiting new resources.

This most recent industrial revolution has not just led to new job terminology (sensor technician, cloud computing specialist, robot operator), but has also revolutionized many fields of expertise in human resource management. Forewarned is forearmed!

  • Data security

The proliferation of systems and their greater connectivity (not only within the factory but amongst clients and suppliers) highlights the importance of data security. Using a multitude of connected objects that are accessible through the Internet requires strict computer security management.

  • Immediate action is required

Many current Industry 4.0 applications can transport your company to a whole new level. For example, you could decide to eliminate paper altogether and migrate towards a 100 percent digital environment. Choosing to use 3D printing to quickly create a product required by a client could be a win-win solution for everyone involved. But whether you decide to set up a simple cloud-based solution or turn towards artificial intelligence (AI), what’s important is to establish these solutions without delay!

Your ability to compete, not to mention the sustainability of your SME, depends on your taking immediate action. Companies that delay their transition will have a harder time competing with more advanced rivals. The cost of not making the digital transformation might end up being a lot more costly than taking the opportunity to invest in your business!