The first industrial revolution has changed the world forever. It introduced the steam engine that revolutionized manufacturing, transport, and businesses far and wide. But the revolution didn't stop there. Two more industrial revolutions happened, one with the invention of electricity, and the other one when computers became available.
The entire world is facing the fourth industrial revolution, dubbed Industry 4.0. The latest revolution revolves around advanced AI/ML systems and IoT. Together, these technologies can improve business processes and product quality in a digital environment. This article will explain what steps you have to take to prepare your company for industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 In More Detail
Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution, and it rests on new technologies such as wireless IoT sensors, AI, and ML. The latest revolution combines traditional methods with digital technologies to improve efficiency, productivity, scaling, and product design.
Let's explain it in a real-life example. For example, if you're running a manufacturing plant, you can install IoT sensors on all devices in the manufacturing line. The sensors then gather real-life data and send it to the machine learning system that looks for gaps and issues in the operation. Once the ML system learns how everything works, it provides the information to the AI that finds better solutions to improve efficiency and productivity.
The technology applies to almost all business processes including manufacturing, marketing, supply chain optimization, employee monitoring, etc. The result is always operation optimization on a scale never seen before. The AI can create digital copies of the entire production using the digital twin technology. This tech can then help improve product development, run various simulations using real-world data, etc.
Getting Ready for Industry 4.0
There is no doubt that Industry 4.0 brings a lot of benefits that will help your business grow in the long run. However, introducing new technologies into existing business practices always comes with some challenges you have to overcome. Here are some preparations you'll have to complete to be able to get the most out of IoT technologies.
1. Integration With Existing Infrastructure
One of the best things about making the transition to Industry 4.0 is that you don't have to replace existing machinery and legacy IT systems. Getting ready for industry 4.0 usually requires a revamp of existing technology without expensive replacements and investing in new, modern systems.
IoT sensors that collect data sent to the AI can be placed on existing machinery, regardless of age or condition. These sensors then collect data about vibrations, power consumption, and similar details. All sensors are connected wirelessly with the system, and they will keep producing data for the AI. Moreover, artificial intelligence also uses historical data to understand how past processes can improve using new technologies.
The challenge here is to ensure that all communication systems collect data and integrate with existing databases. You can even create a hybrid system that combines cloud data with on-premises data to get the maximum out of the system. All data will appear in one dashboard that allows you to analyze every detail and optimize your processes.
2. Calculate Your ROI
Once you implement IoT into your existing systems, it will help you increase productivity while lowering overall costs. However, making the transition to industry 4.0 will still cost you a lot of money. The challenge here is to figure out if the investment will pay off over time.
Small and medium-sized businesses are usually better off using other technologies, as the investment is often too high. There's no point in adopting new technologies if the returns are lower than the initial investment. That's why you must calculate your ROI accurately before implementing any new technologies.
3. Employee Training
The goal of most AI/ML solutions is to improve business processes through automation. Some processes will become fully automated, so you won't need as many employees as before. With that said, the employees that stay will have to develop new skills for everything to work.
You might find a few employees that can pick things up quickly, but everyone else will have to develop new skills to use these modern technologies. That means that you'll have to consider training costs, the time your employees need to develop new skills, and the maintenance costs of running the operation.
4. Is The Effort Worth The Trouble?
Now we get to the most important question - is your current setup working well enough, or do you need new technologies to improve production? Sometimes it's best to improve existing processes without introducing new technologies, especially if you have a hard time understanding tech-speak and software solutions.
There are hundreds of different AI/ML systems you can try, so how do you pick the one that suits your business needs? You should know that not all of them are made for the same purpose. Moreover, some require long implementation times that could damage your workflow and lead to unforeseen expenses. Thinking that a premium new technology will fix your problems is the wrong approach. The transition period involves a lot of testing, training, and preparations that might not be worth the trouble in the end.
5. Customer Benefits
Although it might not seem like it, an AI/ML software solution has a huge impact on customer satisfaction. Once the system is set up, you can improve delivery times, automate shipping, and improve products according to your customer's needs.
AI can help you reduce downtimes with practices such as predictive maintenance and inventory optimization, which will allow you to complete more orders and satisfy more customers. The bottom line is - industry 4.0 offers benefits to everyone involved with your business, including the customer.
Industry 4.0 has been redefining manufacturing and business processes for a few years already. More and more companies and corporations are adopting IoT sensors and other technologies to improve efficiency and productivity.
However, making the transition from traditional business practices to industry 4.0 comes at a high price. These technologies are still in their early stages, so they are often too expensive for small and medium-sized businesses. But, if you feel that the extra expenses and efforts will pay off down the line, the sooner you make the first step - the higher the advantage you'll have over your competition.