by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

Industry 4.0 is here. The advancement of today’s manufacturing via the combination of automation, data exchange, cloud computing, and many other new manufacturing technologies. An increasing number of manufacturers, including small and mid-sized companies in Pennsylvania, are making investments and strides towards that goal. Are you ready, willing, and able to seize the opportunity?

The PA Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), of which NWIRC is a part, recently completed a project to learn more about Pennsylvania’s ability to access and implement Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMT). Interviews were conducted among manufacturers in PA to gage their utilization of state-of-the-art technology, thus assessing their adoption of Industry 4.0. From the preliminary findings, 81% of the companies said they have invested in some form of AMTs. Of those, the specific technologies were cited as ERP systems (76%), robotics (51%), multi-function machines (51%), digital design (39%), and additive manufacturing (34%). The benefits these manufacturers realized from their AMT investment are increased productivity (72%), company growth (55%), and 55% thought they had greater competitive advantage. These companies reported their top business issues as finding and keeping talent, growing customer base, and cost control…all of which can benefit from technology as part of the solution. That being said, half of the manufacturers surveyed said they are looking for additional training on available advanced manufacturing technologies and one-third would like information on potential impact.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) conducted a survey to assess U.S. manufacturers adoption of Industry 4.0 and its challenges. BCG found the majority of companies surveyed felt Industry 4.0 was a priority, but it was not yet imperative. Their report notes that manufacturers recognize the potential of Industry 4.0 to create value, but don’t fully appreciate the scope and ability to find the path to success. Respondents cited defining a strategy as the biggest challenge in initiating efforts to adopt Industry 4.0, followed closely by rethinking their organization and processes.

For manufacturers in northwestern PA still determining how to start their transformation, the bottom line is to approach Industry 4.0 with a plan…from self-assessment to implementation. Here are just a few initial action steps to get started: 1) educate yourself on the technologies available, 2) identify how the new technologies can positively affect areas of your business from supply chain management to the shop floor, 3) prioritize key issues or improvements you’d like to address first and what technology(ies) can help, and 4) assess the skills needed for your workforce to be successful. Also, based on survey results validating that manufacturers would like more information on available technologies and their benefits, seek an independent and knowledgeable partner to help with steps along the way.

Stay tuned with NWIRC as we continue and enhance our Industry 4.0 journey to assist manufacturers in northwest PA with more education on current trends in technology and help with their plan for transformation.