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How SME Manufacturers Should Approach Industry 4.0 Adoption

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Industry 4.0 has joined the hall of fame of industry buzzwords (congratulations Industry 4.0). A lot of the people I speak to say, “what happened to the first 3, I must have missed them” or “that’s alright if you’re a large manufacturer, but it doesn’t apply to SME’s”. Are they correct? There is a lot of talk about Industry 4.0 being the saviour of SME manufacturing in the UK, but who is implementing anything of this stuff?

The associated digital technologies don’t seem to have gained the traction of uptake from SME manufacturers across the north of England and Wales that some “industry experts” expected. There is a lot of funding around for manufacturers, targeted at creating new jobs, up-skilling existing roles and delivering gross value add (GVA) for the North West economy, but how effective has this been in engaging SME manufacturers? Many are yet to embrace the opportunities that digital technologies offer and despite the positive government reports on improved GVA and jobs/ skills, many businesses are yet to see any benefits in their own back yard.

Mass Market Adoption

If we want mass market adoption, we need to help SME manufacturers understand why. What is in it for me? If you are running a small or medium sized manufacturing business, you want to know how Industry 4.0 will benefit the business.

Get your priorities right first

This is the area with the biggest gap. It is not so much a question of understanding the benefits of Industry 4.0 type technologies (although these could be made much clearer). The priority for manufacturers should be to identify the business benefits they are looking for.

What are your business priorities, and for you to enhance your company strategy, what business results are you looking to swing the needle? Only then should we ask what the ‘Industry 4.0 thing’ can do for us.

Typically, the business benefit an SME manufacturer will be looking to capitalise on will be:

  • Will the Industry 4.0 thing reduce our lead times?
  • Will the Industry 4.0 thing improve productivity?
  • Will the Industry 4.0 thing reduce errors or defects?
  • Will the Industry 4.0 thing save money?
  • Will the Industry 4.0 thing increase capacity?

My challenge to the SME manufacturing leaders out there is to start with the strategic priority and then scour the landscape for Industry 4.0 type technologies that will support the business in this area. Get your priority right first.

Cost vs investment mindset

Approach the Industry 4.0 landscape with an investment mentality. Yes, you need to know the cost, but more importantly, what will the return on your investment be? Alongside the financial return on investment, the investment may reduce accidents by making the workplace safer. Other technologies may move you towards a paperless system, which may help reduce costs, but perhaps more importantly, improve customer service levels. Or the overall driver may be the environmental impact, supporting your drive to Net Zero and Sustainability. Every business has its own unique DNA and has different drivers, so think ROI and think about it in its broadest sense, rather than just focussing on the implementation cost.

Experiment with frugality

Once you have identified your business priorities – have a go. Task your team with identifying a few Industry 4.0 options that you could test at a low cost and a low risk to the business. And then try it out in a pilot area. Experiments need the doing bit to test whether it can work or not. And like a lot of experiments, they go wrong, but we learn in the process.

Your team need permission to fail with this stuff.

Tackle the barriers to Industry 4.0 adoption in your business

From our conversations with our customers, the main reasons for not embracing Industry 4.0 have been:

  • Education. Not knowing enough about what is available (for SME’s), how the technologies could be applied and the potential benefits.
  • Time availability. Not having the spare resources in house to spend on learning about Industry 4.0 technology minefield.
  • Lack of funds. A perceived lack of affordability and the investment not providing a good enough return.
  • It’s for big organisations. A lot of the case studies and big investments are made by larger manufacturers and some SME’s don’t feel it’s for smaller businesses.

Are these the types of barriers for you? We believe we can help.

With the breadth and depth of our network we can share many examples of where Industry 4.0 type technologies are working for SME manufacturers. Simple solutions are providing real strategic business benefits, such as, reducing lead times (shop floor and office), lowering the cost of operations, improving quality, and improving responsiveness to customer needs.

On 28th July, 9:00am – 3:30pm we will be running our first free taster for a new Industry 4.0 Peer Group. This group will run similarly to our existing peer groups and will be dedicated to sharing knowledge on Industry 4.0 type technologies and the breadth of options available to accelerate your efficiency gains.

Do you have anyone within your organisation you would like to put forward for the group? They are welcome to test the water for free on 28th July & 29th September.

The group will be facilitated by Mark Stone, who has a wide portfolio of experience in running Manufacturing & Engineering Departments in large and SME manufacturing environments. He also has first-hand experience of applying a lot of the Industry 4.0 type technologies with his own teams in his career.

With our new peer group, we intend to bring the technology examples into the room to educate the people that join the group and support them through the testing and embedding into the business. It will be a pragmatic approach that works with the challenges and aspirations in the room and supports people with the real-life application.

If this new peer support group focused on Industry 4.0 adoption sounds like the kind of group for you or a member of your team, please fill out the contact form below to express your interest and we will share our brochure. Places for this group will be in high demand and limited so please respond early to avoid disappointment.