The manufacturing industry has been slower than the other sectors when it comes to reacting to the advent of digital technologies and adopting the latest digital tools and platforms. As a result, it witnessed an insignificant impact across the manufacturing value chain and operating model. Although some of the manufacturing companies have rapidly derived benefits from leading-edge digital technologies, the number of those companies are still few. Basically, the manufacturing industry is a broad one that comprises both giant multinationals and small manufacturers who either produce for industrial partners or for direct consumers.

Lately, the technology scenarios have started to change as the industry is harnessing advanced digital and mobile technologies to deliver greater customer experience, process efficiency, and overall productivity – ultimately ushering in an age of intelligent manufacturing!

What is Industry 4.0 and what are its enduring influences?

Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution can be defined as the much-required digital transformation that is set to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. The term was first coined by the German government and it implies the heightened competitiveness of the manufacturing industry on embracing smart and autonomous digital technologies like Industrial IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Robotics, Data Analytics, and related sciences. Industry 4.0 creates a cyber-physical production environment across the industry value chain with an amalgamation of Information technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) – bringing real-time data and information to the industrial operations.

In simpler terms, Industry 4.0 has created a connected environment for manufacturing and related industries where data, computers, people, processes, systems, services, and IoT-based industrial assets communicate with each other and share meaningful and actionable data and information. They do so to drive a smart, informed, collaborative, and innovative industrial value chain and ecosystem. This entire digitally connected network that includes cyber-physical systems, smart devices, Internet of Systems, and Industrial Internet of Things together facilitates intuitive production mechanisms.

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What digital capabilities can do to the manufacturing industry?

The applicability of digital technologies in the manufacturing industry is tremendous. It extends the greater capability of producing high-quality goods in less time and at reduced costs. The latest waves of digitalization have made it possible for decision-makers and innovators to widen the scope of existing mobile, information, and electronic technologies.

The sharing and presenting of real-time information and communication powered by the connected industrial assets with the Internet of Things drive efficiency and productivity at multiple levels throughout the manufacturing value chain. This results in improved business models, better customer focus, improved cost management, faster time to market, greater delivery cycles, enhanced productivity, and a proven increase in revenue.

Digital tools and technologies enhance communications and collaboration through multiple channels within the value chain and these new capabilities transform the traditional value chain into an integrated value circle, which further leads to tighter integration, automation, and acceleration of internal operations and work execution processes with better coordination and consolidation that results in comprehensive business efficiency and transparency.

Let’s take a glance at some of the areas in which digitalization can benefit critical aspects of a manufacturing company’s value chain. 

#1. It drives innovation through digital product design with the help of digital technologies that enable the usage of techniques like open innovation, co-creation, and crowdsourcing. These facilitate idea generation for innovative solutions and can accelerate product development. 

#2. Digital technologies like virtual prototyping and testing through engineering simulation software help manufacturers predict product performance, efficiency, risks, and challenges and thereby reduces the time-to-market. Mobility in manufacturing can be incremental in revamping the processes right from asset management, shop floor management, field sales, and field service management.

#3. Integrated digital knowledge management systems and tools allow for a more efficient and cohesive approach to capturing, sharing, and developing knowledge-based content and information, user guides, and customer-tailored technical documents. 

#4. The manufacturing companies’ decision-making abilities are heightened manifold with the help of big data analytics that drives comprehensive collection and evaluation of data from varied sources to produce actionable insights for the manufacturers and to drive effective decision-making.

#5. The low-cost autonomous robots are being explored as they are expected to drive intelligent customer interactions without human involvement. They are also being used for greater responsibilities at manufacturing units. 

#6. Digital tools allow manufacturers to have tighter control on materials, resources, supply chain, and transportation systems that can now efficiently synchronize and communicate with each other owing to the intervention of Industrial IoT

#7. Manufacturers can optimize plant operations and warehouse management and machine settings with the help of digital technologies such as simulations, RFID, and Advanced Warehouse Management systems.

#8. Digital tools and technologies like virtualization of the supply chain, supplier collaboration platform, 3D printing for prototyping, comprehensive processes for materials and value flows, real-time supply chain analytics and online parts, and remote order tracking can greatly optimize the supply chain management and production processes. 

#9. Digitally enabled devices, platforms, and dashboards can enable manufacturers to track customer requirements, feedback, asset location, employee activity, product inventory, delivery status, and customer experiences and it also enables customers to use web-based order tracking.

#10. Digital technologies like advanced ERP facilitate direct transfer of production orders to machines, thereby eliminating the need for manual tasks and this connectivity between ERP and operations executive system enhances transparency and visibility into material availability.

Apart from the technological aspects, digital media platforms drive targeted marketing efforts with virtual campaigns through multiple digital touchpoints and create new possibilities for manufacturers to connect and address global customers with customized messages, which aims to enhance brand value and customer loyalty at different stages of the purchase decision. 

Also, a mobile workforce proves to be more efficient, cohesive, information-driven, and agile in offering customer-centric solutions such as handy devices managed with kiosk software and automated chatbots to quickly address customer complaints. Industry 4.0 driven by strong and multidimensional digital transformation is all set to take the manufacturing industry at great heights. It’s only a matter of time and invention!

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