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31 August 2017

Industry 4.0. Just Advertising?

By Jennifer Sillars

There is no denying the fact that ‘Industry 4.0’ is a buzzword. A term meant to conjure images of a full connected and automated eco-system in which customers are understood, production is optimised and new products come off the production line with no defects.

But what does Industry 4.0 really mean? It’s unclear. It means many things to many people. Gideon Roodveldt, an expert in quality and safety within the Aerospace Manufacturing industry believes the drivers behind the term are the same issues OEMs and their suppliers have been grappling with for decades. Ideagen recently spoke to Gideon Roodveldt, Global Quality Assurance at Fokker Elmo. Gideon is the Functional Manager for the global running of quality systems at Fokker Elmo, authoring quality and safety procedures. He has worked in the Aerospace Industry for 9 years and before this has 10 years wide spread IT and logistics experience. Fokker Elmo is part of GKN Aerospace and offers industry leading capabilities in aerostructures, electric wiring systems and landing gear.

Gideon Roodveldt Fokker Elmo.jpg

Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0. I think this is a reflection of the market. The market is very competitive, so everyone is looking for the differentiation that will set them apart. Talking about Industry 4.0 is just advertising, because everyone likes the idea of everything being connected. 

But Industry 4.0, or whatever you choose to call it, has always been there. In the 80s and 90s there was ‘Industry 3.0’ but we did not call it that way. But for me there’s not much difference. 

That’s not to say this isn’t a good way to work forward! There is so much data available at this very moment. If you want to have market differentiation, you need to look back at the kind of data you have to get the right information filtered. You need to learn from this information and go forward positive again. One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is - what is the most important data you need? Next; where does that data come from? Another company?

Manufacturing industries have progressed since the 80s and 90s. The emphasis on reliability means that products coming off the production line are safer now than they have ever been. Parts are designed to not fail and stretch the time required between maintenance. The technology and equipment we use to make products are smarter, more autonomous, precise and dexterous. The tests we put prototypes and first articles through are more rigorous. 

The like clockwork emergence of terms and initiatives such as Industry 4.0 points to manufacturing industries’ culture of continual improvement. But this cycle also points to a desire for the unavoidable pressures to be easier to deal with. Gideon continues, giving an example:

If you and I lived a million years ago and we needed food, we could cut a piece of wood and try to fish in the river. Then we invented the fishing net. Instead of fishing by hand and catching maybe four fish a day we use the net and it catches maybe 20 fish a day. Meanwhile you can sit on the shore and relax. 

In the 1600s we used a horse and cart to get around. It gets us from A to B faster than walking. Then we invent the car which brings us from A to B even faster. Do we walk? No. Because we are lazy. We put on the air conditioner and relax. With any technology we, as humans, try to make life as easy as possible for ourselves. That’s what we can predict.

In our products, we are improving the mean time between failure. Instead of having to replace products every single year, we then only have to replace them every five years. Our version of a product beneficial for all being ‘lazy’.

But as technology makes some parts of the processes easier, even removing manual intervention completely, a focus on the fundamentals can’t be lost. The use of data seems to be a key differentiator between Industry 4.0 and the buzzwords that came before it. Using data to make better decisions when setting new product requirements, making a production plan and mitigate risks will be an improvement. It should deliver the ability to analyse decisions with a system doing the leg work instead of requiring a project team to devote 6 months to a retrospective investigation. The level of analysis required is often missed due to lack of resources. For the foreseeable future manual intervention in decision-making is still a requirement, and this is desirable:

You only know your own company’s input. You cannot know the input from other companies. Your own input can even be unreliable because it’s probably an output of another process which is in between companies.

Take a customer requirement; the customer puts something on paper, we read it and go build the product based on that requirement. But no one really questions the customer on what the requirement means. No one asks ‘Do I understand your requirement correctly?’ Even a single word, like ‘compliance’, can have a dozen different meanings. Which one does the customer mean? Typically, we just assume we know. And at the end of the production line the product can be wrong because we have predicted requirements very differently. So we need to improve processes, reduce assumptions and risks here.

Industry 4.0 may be simply advertising. But there is a reason why terms like this emerge and the drivers behind them are valid. Embracing the technology available to us to make better decisions and optimise how we produce products is something that we do automatically. As the technology allows us to be lazier, there are other tasks that can keep us busy.

Gideon leaves us with a final thought: “Get back to basics with better communication, collaboration and planning.

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