Skip to content

Smart Ways for Manufacturers to Embrace Industry 4.0

By Brad Marley Contributing Editor
Jeff Winter, Manufacturing Industry Executive, Microsoft

Jeff Winter is an Industry 4.0 and digital transformation enthusiast at Microsoft who acts as an advisor to U.S. manufacturers, helping them digitally transform at scale. We recently sat down with Jeff to talk about how companies can connect with industry thought leaders who can help them succeed.

Smart Manufacturing (SM): Tell us about your own Smart Manufacturing journey.

Jeff Winter (JW): As part of a promotion to lead (automation and systems integration specialist) Grantek’s strategic initiatives team at the end of 2018, it was my job to figure out what Industry 4.0 meant to the company, and how we should develop our offering and go-to-market strategy to navigate the space. This was actually my first real exposure to the term and concept of Industry 4.0, as previously I had led the company’s Safety Business Practice, primarily focused on machine safeguarding and functional safety.

The way I approached this challenge was the same way I approached building the Safety Business Practice. I completely submersed myself in Industry 4.0.

This involved joining associations, joining academic groups, joining research teams, reading books, earning certifications, taking name it. Not only did I want to build the necessary knowledge and skills, I also wanted to be connected with everyone and anyone of influence in the world of Industry 4.0. This meant networking, shadowing, and learning from the who’s who of Industry 4.0. My goal was never to be the smartest person on the subject, but be credible and trusted to make educated decisions for Grantek and for our clients.

Even something as simple as figuring out the definition of Industry 4.0 was a tough task. With so many buzzwords being used, such as Smart Manufacturing, Agile Factory, Digital Manufacturing, Smart Factory, etc., it was a challenge to make sense of them all. That was one of the reasons why I became a U.S. registered expert for the IEC Standards Group, part of TC65 Joint Working Group 21, as one of their tasks has been to define all this new lingo. And just to show you that I am not alone in this quest to define the concepts, it took the committee around seven years to ultimately come up with definitions.

Another way I learned the topic was by signing up to speak at conferences and publish articles. Trust me, one of the fastest ways to learn a new subject is to attempt to educate others. So, what was the very first thing I did? I signed myself up to write a 1,500-word article answering the question “What is Industry 4.0?” It took me many hours to research and write it, but it helped me tremendously in my ability to understand it and be able to articulate it well to others. Like Albert Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Jeff Winter is a frequent speaker at industry events discussing Industry 4.0 and its impact on manufacturing.

SM: You’ve since joined Microsoft. What is your current role there?

JW: My official title is industry executive for manufacturing. This basically means I help manufacturing companies in the United States with their digital transformation journey by sharing best practices, statistics, trends, and industry insights. I serve as a manufacturing and Industry 4.0 subject matter expert who helps position Microsoft as a recognized leader in our customers’ eyes as the first choice for their digital transformation journey.

SM: How do you drive awareness of Microsoft to its customers in the manufacturing space?

JW: Microsoft’s point of view on manufacturing revolves around five of what we call “Industry Priority Scenarios.” These industry priority scenarios represent the areas we find successful manufacturing focusing on to achieve the vision of Industry 4.0.

It’s my job to help show the ”art of the possible” and paint a picture of what “good” looks like based upon a combination of technological capability and successful use cases. Since Microsoft is on the cutting edge of the newest technologies driven around data, we have an incredible story around how leveraging data can completely change the way your company operates.

When we talk about Industry 4.0, I like to make sure we are all talking about the same thing. Here is my favorite way to describe it: Industry 3.0 is about automation, or the reduction of human intervention and processes. Industry 4.0 is about cognition, or the ability to acquire knowledge and understanding. What separates those two is the ability to properly capture and harness the power of data. This is where Microsoft is uniquely positioned in the industry to have the broadest and most comprehensive offering on the market to not just transform one department, but to help transform an entire company.

SM: How can manufacturing companies better use data to be successful?

JW: What most people don’t realize is the sheer amount of data that is being generated. According to Statista, 64 zettabytes worth of data was made in the year 2020 alone, which is a whopping 13,000 times as much as five exabytes of data that Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, famously said in 2010 was the amount of data generated since the dawn of civilization all the way up until 2003. That is crazy! This means companies are already generating more data than they know what to do with it. Before spending a bunch of money to collect new data, there is an incredible opportunity to take advantage of the data we already collect.

To be successful, one of the first things companies need to do is develop a data strategy that describes their plan for utilizing this data, including the what, the how, the where, the when, and the why. Answers to these big picture questions will change the way you source, collect, store, and analyze data. Plus, it will change the way you define your technology infrastructure requirements.

No two companies will have the same answer either so it’s not like you can follow guidelines that have been put in place by previous companies. You have to understand how it’s applicable to your company and then deploy it.

SM: How can associations and trade groups, such as SME, elevate a manufacturer’s business operations?

JW: The first is to focus on the company network. The ability for companies to hear what other companies are doing is invaluable when it comes to learning best practices and understanding how they can deploy that knowledge within the walls of their company. This can be as simple as hosting roundtables with COOs or IT executives to learn from each other.

The other area where organizations like SME can help is, well, helping companies get started. Creating resources, like readiness assessments and decision matrices, can be a boon to a manufacturer that wants to enact Industry 4.0 but isn’t quite sure how to go about doing so. Having those guides available can be helpful to a company that wants to reap the benefits of Industry 4.0.

  • View All Articles
  • Connect With Us

Always Stay Informed

Receive the latest manufacturing news and technical information by subscribing to our monthly and quarterly magazines, weekly and monthly eNewsletters, and podcast channel.