6 July, 2022

The digital transformation journey – don’t run before you can walk

23 February, 2021

January’s online Talking Industry panel discussion addressed issues surrounding digital data capture, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and better communication practices etc through deploying concepts and strategies related to the industrial network of things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0.

The panelists for this DFA Media-staged event – Michaël Lefeuvre, product manager Europe for Red Lion Controls, Daniel Phillips-Fern, UK country manager for IXON Cloud and Chris McComb, managing director of system integrator iTech – offered some insightful views on the topic for delegates representing both larger enterprise-level organisations and SMEs within the manufacturing, engineering and automation arena. One of the most thought-provoking points of the discussion, chaired by Drives & Controls magazine’s consultant editor Andy Pye, was the issue of the level of familiarity with IIoT and Industry 4.0 inter alia within companies of various sizes, and why some are still shying away from looking at what’s achievable in greater detail.

No one-size-fits-all solution

Phillips-Fern made the point that IIoT and Industry 4.0 can mean different things across sectors and some companies think there is a one-size-fits-all solution. “I think a lot of companies fall into that trap of thinking there must be one solution that meets everyone's requirements and that just isn't how it works,” he explained. One thing he sees from experience is that there is a key stage at the start of the process of looking at Industry 4.0, namely, what companies want to achieve using the technology. This, he said, can differ greatly across industries and across companies. It could be companies want to achieve higher levels of machine or plant efficiency, less downtime wastage, happier or more engaged customers through delivering better service, or produce a better end-product.

Phillips-Fern added that there are so many things technology can help companies with, but a lot of these companies don't actually understand what they want to achieve before they set out on this goal. He believes that in turn creates a strange dynamic where solutions offered actually drive the end results whereas you want to work backwards looking at what you want to achieve and then finding the right solution to help you. “So, once you've defined that goal, I think you have a much better chance of actually succeeding.”

Phillips-Fern also spoke of the importance of addressing barriers to entry, such as cost and staffing expertise regarding the technology that is implemented. “For example, a large multinational manufacturer will have a much larger budget and probably already have the expertise and team to build or create the solution. But the time to implement this across multiple sites will be much larger than for SME machine builders, for example, who just want to collect machine data and then compare it across different assets around the world. They might want to do that to look at failure rates of machines and find a better way to improve their machines going forwards. So, there are many options available for companies who want to take the first step, but by defining that end goal and working backwards I think you have a better way of achieving success that would be my initial thoughts.”

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