Piecing Together the Industry 4.0 Jigsaw

With all of the hyperbole surrounding Industry 4.0 which has been flooding our senses over the last several years, it is no wonder then that many are growing increasingly tired, weary and even disillusioned of it by now.

Yet the funny thing is, many in the food and beverage manufacturing sector who bemoan such sentiments are often unwittingly embracing it. The problem is not Industry 4.0 per se, but more a problem of how we frame it.

If you have been searching for the unicorn that is an Industry 4.0 ‘solution’ but failed to find it then you are right to be weary – it’s a mythical beast that does not exist. If you have spent many hours and even more dollars plumbing in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors across conversion and packaging processes to now find yourself drowning in useless data with no discernible benefit, then you have a right to be tired.

Even if you have been at the bleeding edge and invested in AI (Artificial Intelligence) or Machine Learning (ML) solutions (or worse, tried to build the algorithms yourself) only to find that they are actually not really that smart – then you have a right to be disillusioned. However, I would argue that is not what Industry 4.0 is.

Industry 4.0 is a delineator of evolution. We like to describe evolutionary timelines with delineators that describe different epochs – regardless of whether we are describing the evolution of the earth, the human race or industry. Therefore Industry 4.0 is not an objective, but an evolutionary outcome. As new technologies, tools and techniques emerge and begin to change how manufacturing is performed, industries evolve just as they have done several times over the last several hundred years.

In food and beverage manufacturing, it is no different than previous evolutionary upheavals (such as with the widespread adoption of industrial automation).

So, let’s not get too hung up on a delineator of evolution and concentrate on the business needs that many food and beverage manufacturers are facing today and how they can effectively address them.

The markets that food and beverage manufacturers serve also continue to evolve (attitudes, trends, needs, priorities, income, demand, etc.) as well as the environments that they operate in (online, global, competition, distribution, supply chains, etc.) and internally within their own organisations (ethics, responsibilities, workforce, strategy, innovation, etc.). Those arrows of evolutionary time tend to always point towards the need for increasing productivity, output and quality, while at the same time lowering costs, production latency and risk.

Let’s look at a scenario of a fairly typical food manufacturer:

Due to the increasingly tough market in which they operate, (more competition and an increasingly fickle customer base), they decide to embark on a shop floor modernisation project. The principle driver is the need to significantly reduce their operating costs, improve productivity and yield and to reduce waste. This will enable them to be more price competitive in the market while still retaining similar margins.

Due to volatility in demand, they need to increase their operational flexibility by being able to reduce inventory, provide a wider selection of product variants and move to shorter volume production runs. Finally, they must also improve the quality and consistency of their product to ensure that consumers continue to choose it in the long-term over their competitors.

While these business challenges have always been present in some form, the need for greater improvement is becoming more urgent. Like many, they have reached a proverbial glass ceiling where further improvements and gains have been harder to achieve, with diminishing returns. Now they have a higher proportion of tech-savvy millennials on the shop floor, they decide it is time to move away from their traditional and mostly manual processes and embark on a digital transformation project.

After an intensive discovery phase, they now have a much clearer understanding of their end-to-end manufacturing and packaging processes. They also understand all of the causal elements that have a direct impact on, or indirect influence on their primary objectives, including what is critical to quality, critical to cost and critical to productivity.

They embark on a project to be able to digitally monitor and capture data from all of these sources. This is a varied project that includes capturing data from existing PLC devices, installing new measurement devices and IIoT sensors, upgrading lab equipment and even providing the means for operators to digitally record information from manually performed inspections.

In order to ensure that data from these wide-ranging sources can flow freely and reliably, they decide to upgrade their networks and include modern 5G networking capabilities and provide operators with handheld devices such as tablets. These efforts would be fruitless unless they have the means to turn that data in to real-time actionable intelligence and make it available to a wide range of users – from line side operators to senior supply-chain executives.

They deploy an Enterprise Quality Intelligence solution, but do not want the burden of installing, maintaining and constantly upgrading yet another complex enterprise application. Instead, they decide to subscribe to a Software-as-a-Service that takes all of that burden away from their IT teams.

On project completion, they soon recognise the significant gains made by the simple fact that everyone now has real-time access to reliable and actionable intelligence, and their business objectives have been achieved. While this may be a generalised and fictitious story, it is not dissimilar to scenarios that we are engaged with on a daily basis with our food and beverage manufacturing clients.

This manufacturer has put many of the important pieces of the jigsaw together and moved them towards a digital manufacturing future where data, information and intelligence has become the central pillar of their manufacturing operations. Was it branded as an Industry 4.0 project? No. Was it an Industry 4.0 project? Yes. Whether they admit it or not, they have moved themselves much further along the Industry 4.0 evolutionary timeline.

By Jason Chester
Director of Global Partner Programs, InfinityQS
November, 2020

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