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Industry 4.0 is Big and Confusing, So Start Small

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

Back in the early days of the Internet, when new sites were popping up selling everything from office supplies to dog food, I told a friend that I would never shop on the Internet. Too sketchy and unsafe. Well, some of it is still sketchy and unsafe, but I shop online—like billions of other people.

My early thoughts about the Internet mirror many people’s thoughts on Industry 4.0—the digitalization of manufacturing. Many are suspicious, think it’s a marketing ploy to sell software, and don’t see the real benefit.

But many of those skeptics will eventually be using Industry 4.0 protocols to better measure, benchmark, and optimize their production systems. The question is, how do we get there?

In the space of a week, I listened to several people with good ideas on getting started with Industry 4.0. First, on a visit to Sandvik Coromant in Schaumburg, Illinois, I talked to Jeff Rizzie, director of digital machining for Sales Area America. One reason he cited for adopting Industry 4.0 was particularly compelling: “Today, when they prepare new jobs, most shops rely on tribal knowledge—they ask an engineer to remember the last time they made something similar, and with that knowledge develop a new process or program [from scratch]. With digital machining, we can build system knowledge and not rely so much on tribal knowledge. Instead, with performance data from machine tools, we can feed it back into the system to deliver programs and cutting tool recommendations. We think this will change things in a very real way.”

One key benefit of this process will be increasing very low machine utilization rates—averaging 30 percent on a global basis—as shops act on clear information coming from their now monitored production systems.
A few days later, at FABTECH 2019 in Chicago, I attended a Leadership Exchange on Emerging and Advanced Technologies and the panelists offered great practical ideas on Industry 4.0.

Chandra Brown, CEO of MxD: “Start with an assessment of where you are at in this digital journey. You don’t have to transform everything immediately. Pick one area [to start digitizing] and do it well.”

Jason Ray, co-founder and CEO of Paperless Parts Inc.: “Focus on connecting your most important asset: your people. When you walk into a shop today, there’s paper everywhere. All that is tribal knowledge. [Use digitalization] to capture the tribal knowledge of your most skilled people” so it can be passed on to new machinists.

Michael Walton, industry solutions executive (manufacturing) at Microsoft: “Move from your business running on tribal knowledge and artisans to capturing people’s actual knowledge, then use sensors to capture the hidden knowledge [in your machining processes]. We can take a $49 sensor on a machine” and analyze that data to coach people on what process changes are needed.

That’s good advice—and the time to get started is now!

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