How to Start Your Smart Manufacturing Journey

Author: Rodney Rusk | June 17, 2020

How to Start Your Smart Manufacturing Journey

We are living the fourth industrial revolution; this is no buzzword anymore. Although executives across the globe have realized the importance of acting in a timely manner, defining the right path for an organization might still be a challenge.

Let's set the stage first. "Industry 4.0" is the official name of an initiative led by the German government together with Robert Bosch GmbH and other leading technical universities. In a nutshell, this is truly a call to action, given the fact that technology is now more pervasive, cheap and accessible than ever. It is an encouragement, for example, to start looking into the benefits that Internet of Things (IoT) can bring to your operations. Moreover, it is an encouragement to truly start thinking outside the box and exploring emerging technologies, such as 3D printing, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, for finding new creative ways to boost productivity, create new business models, and ultimately satisfy your customers.

In other words, Industry 4.0 aims to bring people, technology and information together.

Currently we are in the process of turning our old "dumb" equipment into "smart" and connected equipment (definition of "brownfield application"), applying sensors, using industrial gateways or edge devices that "talk" in common IoT protocols and can be programmed in high level programming languages: we are now able to finally have complete visibility into the behavior of our machines. We transformed raw data into information.

The next step would be to turn information into knowledge, and we can do so by combining all the information we have collected from our machines and other various data source across the shop floor: thanks to Machine Learning we can now find patterns and correlations at unprecedented speed and scale. Condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, smart order routing, are some of the application that can lead to energy saving ad higher OEE.

In 10-20 years from now, the goal would be to have intelligent autonomous systems that coordinate independently among each other and are capable to help humans in taking faster and better decisions on how to efficiently run a plant.

How do we actually get started?

First, it is utmost important to understand where along this journey your organization is matured to. For an evaluation and an assessment, it is recommended to work with an experienced provider that ideally has experienced this journey themselves and can serve as a coach and sounding board with real world examples.

You are dealing with a massive change management initiative for your organization. Think about it - installing and utilizing new technologies is going to change on how we do business, how we interact with others and how we make decisions. And a lot of this change is uncertain and outright scary for many folks in your organization. Hence, you should treat this with the respective importance and dedicate resources to guide you through this challenging but very exciting time.

Obvious examples we can think of are the introduction of Cobots (i.e. Collaborative Robots) and automation bots where associates in all areas have a direct threat of being replaced and losing their job, impacting their livelihood. Another group to consider are line managers and middle management. With increased transparency around processes and the introduction of AI to give us guidance e.g. predictive maintenance, how will they stay relevant and how "good of a job" do they really do? Processes are not a black box any longer but can be scrutinized by anybody.

In our own experience, the most correlation today we see in our own journey over the last 20 years transforming to a lean culture. Looking at the steps and milestones we underwent, the same is true for today's transformation around digitalization to your Factory of the Future.

Don't make the same mistakes as we have made and obviously learned from it and help accelerate your transformation.


In order to be successful early on this journey, reverse the approach and actions. This means you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you defined the business value cases for Industry 4.0 in your plant?
  • Do you have an i4.0 team with an i4.0 mindset?
  • Do you have a strategic i4.0 roadmap?

Make this topic a priority in your organization and lead the change. Have a systematic approach in place to deploy technology and solutions most effectively. Have a plan in place on how you run from POC to scale across your entire organization. Don't get tempted by "shiny" technology and dashboards but focus on solutions that delivery business results. We will cover this topic in more details in future blogs.

Key takeaways:

  • Whether we call it Industry4.0 or Smart Manufacturing, a cross-functional team must be established. Experts from the Information Technology (IT) side must sit down at the same table with experts from the Operational Technology (OT) side.
  • Subsequently a common jargon must be found, so that people from diverse background are allowed to communicate effectively.
  • Let's not forget the business side: this is not just a technological journey, value stream managers as well as other business stakeholders have to be onboard and drive the Factory of the Future initiatives with clear goals and an understandable strategy.
  • People are at the center of everything, technology is the easy part, change management is the key to success

Understand where you are, be clear about where you want to go, start your journey and have fun along the way.

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