May 10, 2016

Industry 4.0: Still too closed to be good?

Joni Lehtonen

, Kone

I was visiting Hannover Messe at the end of April. It was a good timing since I just returned India with a focus of Make in India program. Hannover provided a good benchmarking point to these two originally government driven initiatives, which have similarities but also differences.

I think that in future blog posts I will make more thorough comparison but in this one the focus to share my view how companies in Hannover were approaching Industry 4.0. 

One of the similarities in these approaches is factory automation that is really the core of Industry 4.0 based on what I saw at Hannover Messe. Most of the companies are providing sensors, controllers, robots, drives, pumps, conveyer belts, autonomous warehouse vehicles, and one after another was promising the silver bullet for Industry 4.0 (without defining what is their own interpretation of it. Industry 4.0 seems to be like Intel Inside, the sticker just needs to be there in order to make you machine creditable).

I have no doubt that many of those new things are great and faster than the previous generation, smaller than competitor’s, more energy efficient and most or all sending data to cloud which you can read in real time with your smart phone.  

All of those are great benefits, but in my opinion most of the companies were having quite a ‘closed’ approach to Industry 4.0.  I mean that Industry 4.0 was mostly seen as an inter-company production excellence, which can be solved by buying a comprehensive automation solution from a vendor who has connected their own next gen products into cloud from where the performance of the product can be visualized by mobile device.

I got an annoying feeling that most companies were just riding on the wave by saying they are Industry 4.0 miracle makers without defining what is their interpretation for Industry 4.0 and how they piece fits into a puzzle.

I personally think that the future will be different. I think that the real Industry 4.0 approach will be more open than closed. 

Production shop floor will be a combination of different machines, different material management systems and different logistics vehicles and all the other production related components from different vendors need to communicate to each others as integrated, seamless system which can adapt itself into changing circumstances. 

On the other hand it will be open in a way that production and material flows will be even more intercompany than intra-company processes.  This requires a lot more supplier collaboration in all levels (refers to ISA-95) not just a collaborative demand supply planning but rather, multiple and dynamic simultaneously process choreographies in supply networks and real time network orchestration between the network nodes (companies) in execution level. This type of execution level collaboration will change some of the very basic fundamental dilemmas or disciplines in manufacturing operations and making them to be more sustainable in the future.

Some, but very few, Hannover Messe exhibitors had their thinking towards more open approach. In some cases they were clearly so behind of their competitors that they have had to find partners to complement their own offering in order to earn the existence in the market. But some others were clearly taking the steps more strategically upfront, that their value proposition for future excellence is reasonable and easier to buy.

All in all, I think it was a very valuable to visit the trade show and I believe that I’m contacting some of companies present in Hannover to join into the ecosystem we have started to create at Tieto. Hopefully there will be co-operation news in the near future, which will benefit our customers’ productivity improvement agendas by having seamless multi-vendor solutions from one-stop-shop partner.

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