One challenge I see in every industry with customers both big and small is visibility into their processes. “How many cars did line two produce today? How many of those achieved all their quality thresholds? How did that compare with yesterday, or a year ago today?” Sometimes the simplest of metrics, widely available and standardised in their calculation between sites, can have dramatic impacts on how a company operates. Step one on the journey into Industry 4.0 is knowing your starting position. Without that, you have no basis from which to estimate how far you can improve, and to understand when you’re changing the right things.
Getting started on this journey means connecting and digitising systems. Automation systems are a great way to do this, and adding a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is even better. Using this, your processes generate actual data which, when combined with MES, gives you valuable insights. That enables simple statistics or KPIs to be generated, which in itself can start to drive behavioural changes in manufacturers. Automation is not always about reducing headcount from a process – in most instances it’s about knowledge, helping operators do their jobs better.
How is Industry 4.0 different? It connects machines, technology, processes and people into a single source, ideally across the entire value chain and lifecycle of the product or service. This allows companies to make informed decisions with a full understanding of the impact on their operations. For example, in response to a slump in the market, should we reduce manufacturing output, and if so, by how much? Using Digital Twins, we can model the impact of these changes and give ourselves some idea of what the future may hold, subject to the usual confidence factors and model fidelity.
Put simply, Industry 4.0 is a data source integrator – all sources, all types, all the time. It uses a prediction model to propose operating plans that can then be fed back into your automation and control systems for implementation once approved – or in control system parlance, the closed loop feedback system.
Does the UK automotive industry have a bright future? Absolutely. Do we have work to achieve that future? Absolutely, but working together as an industry we can collectively achieve these things and more, confidently retaining our seat at the table.