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Industry 4.0: a big challenge for small and medium manufacturers

Higher level of digital education of employees is a big must in small and medium factories    

Author: Adrian DIMA 

When Industry 4.0 was first announced, the early adopters were the companies which afforded to invest and had the human resources to handle complex digital projects: the big enterprises.  

The situation has not changed much since 2011: big companies from automotive, aeronautics or other industries had founded research and development centres, hired IT teams, opened accelerators for Industry 4.0 startups. Those companies are investing huge amounts of money into developing technologies related to Industry 4.0 (sensors, robots, software, etc) that allowed them to become real smart factories, to improve productivity and boost profitability. 

But more than 80% of manufacturing companies from the EU are small and medium sized companies. They face many constraints, starting from mentality to budgets and digital education. 

Some extras from a CapGemini study from 2020 shows that “organizations realize that they have a massive task ahead in scaling their smart factory initiatives. Of all the organizations that have smart factory initiatives, nearly 60% say their initiatives are either struggling or that it is too early to comment. Only 14% said they would characterize their smart factory deployments so far as a success.”  

The major challenges faced by manufacturers in achieving performance at scale are as follows: 

  • Deployment and integration of digital platforms and technologies (for 51% from study responders) 
  • Data readiness and cybersecurity (46%) 
  • Hybrid, soft, and digital capabilities (45%) 
  • Leveraging data to continuously improve operations (42%) 
  • Vision, leadership, and transformation (40%) 
  • Being efficient by design (38%) 

Another big challenge met in all small and medium factories is the level of digital education of employees. People are not used to work with digital systems and, to change this, a massive effort is needed from their employers. In many cases, decisions not to acquire a digital system are taken exclusively due to lack of digital knowledge of the personnel, a situation that leads to a vicious circle: digital solutions are not implemented due to people’s lack of knowledge, and people do not gain more knowledge due to lack of digital solutions at their workplace

To help small and medium manufacturing companies to digitally evolve, the future Industry 4.0 solutions and vendors need to take into consideration simultaneously aspects like: 

  • Affordability: as possible, the solutions offered should be packed as service (SaaS) 
  • Ease of use: the usability should be facing the fact that many users have almost no digital education 
  • Technology usage: complex technologies should be transparent for end users. Augmented analytics, natural language understanding and others should ease the mission to adopt the solution for end users 
  • Reachable support: when users have questions, vendors need to be there on multiple channels like web chat, phone, mail – whatever is handy for end users. 

What are your next steps in this direction? KFactory consultants are ready to help you analyse the current situation and to better define your goals.